International companies seeking low cost-alternatives to traditional videoconferencing are investing in small huddle rooms and open collaboration stations in conjunction with their global deployment collaboration software, such as Skype for Business at the desktop. This is new territory and managers may be surprised when they realize that cultural conflicts are more likely to surface when teams are in situations where they have to closely collaborate. For these smaller video spaces to work effectively alongside the desktop and larger conference rooms, their implementation must include strategies that build trust across cultures.

If you ask three ‘what for’ questions in row, you will always have an answer for the first question. The second question will be more challenging. By the third, you no longer know exactly why you are doing what you are doing.
— Ricardo Semlier, CEO of Semco (TEDGlobal, 2014)

Apply SemlIer’s challenge and ask “why do companies invest in videoconferencing?” In what ways can these smaller, lower cost video experiences actually contribute to fostering collaboration and innovation? The answer may surprise you, as it is not necessarily reducing time and travel costs. Unlike any other remote collaboration technology, videoconferencing provides an opportunity to establish trust from a distance. Modern organizations are thriving melting pots of cultures. These agile development communities require high levels of collaboration in order succeed (or fail) very quickly. Trust is the essential ingredient for establishing common values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices across nations, i.e. getting work done.

Collaboration Space 

Collaboration spaces are either huddle rooms or open-space stations designed to provide instantaneous team collaboration by plugging in a laptop or logging into a dedicated PC and displaying content on the screen. A touch screen combined with software like Skype makes these spaces powerful and so inexpensive they can be installed in large quantities and close to team, avoiding pre-arrangement required for formal meeting rooms.  Adding a video camera and speaker provides a low cost videoconferencing experience that (with the right infrastructure engineering) can connect to desktop or traditional videoconferencing rooms. 

Collaboration (Huddle) Rooms with Video

Collaboration (Huddle) Rooms with Video

Traditional Videoconferencing Room

Videoconferencing rooms are purpose-built to provide the best two-way interactive experience. Unlike Collaboration Spaces, where application sharing and video are equal, in these rooms audio and video are given greater priority. The high quality equipment  is more effective at hearing and seeing less obvious cultural ques than low-cost huddle rooms, but the formal setting lacks the opportunity for casual social interaction and spontaneity.  Collaboration spaces are therefore more likely to generate creative thought and innovation, as well as cultural variances as individuals contribute to the team's initiatives. 

Traditional Videoconferencing Room

Traditional Videoconferencing Room

Different collaboration technologies have unique advantages for overcoming cultural barriers. By integrating the best features of audio and videoconferencing  into the collaboration space we can provide a tool that will be highly effective when we collaborate with teams situated across the globe. 

Collaboration Tool Cultural Comparison

Collaboration Tool Cultural Comparison

In order for organizations to be as productive as possible, particularly when international teams cannot gather around the same table and must to rely on remote technologies to collaborate, choose the right technology.  Having an over-riding corporate culture is not sufficient.  The technology that connects these cultures together has to provide insight into less obvious visual and verbal cues, and the emphasis needs to be on establishing trust.

Now that we have defined the collaboration space, future posts will elaborate on recognizing cultural conflicts (more sublet than you think) and tools for maximizing the use of collaboration spaces to foster trust at a distance.

References

Hammerich, K. and Lewis, R. D. (2013). How different cultures say “I disagree”. Quartz. Retrieved from http://qz.com/117519/how-different-cultures-say-i-disagree/

Meyer, E. (2015). Getting to si, ja, oui, hai and da, how to negotiate across cultures. Harvard Business Review, December issue. 

TEDGlobal (2014). How to run a company with (almost) no rules. Filmed October 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/ricardo_semler_radical_wisdom_for_a_company_a_school_a_life?language=en

TURNING POINT is Mark Peterson's personal take on innovation and collaboration influencing today's corporate strategy. To have a conversion about what takes to implement collaborative solutions efficiently and at enterprise scale, contact Mark Peterson

 

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