Always-On Video Conferencing May Be Best for Socializing, Not Working

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always-on video conferencing in an office common room

Finding a way to promote team culture among remotely located professionals has become the “build a better mousetrap” challenge of the digital age. As modern workplaces become more mobile and video conferencing encourages face-to-face communication between previously isolated workers and offices, there has been a quest to find a technological solution to remote team building.

One of the latest offerings is an always-on video conferencing window that attempts to dissolve the distance between remotely located offices. It acts as a live video portal from one workplace to the next and comes complete with a “knock knock” feature that allows teammates to get each other’s attention by simply tapping on a digital screen.

It sounds like a novel approach to online socializing–if it’s kept at an opt-in distance from workspaces.

The Always-On Video Conferencing Window

Video Window is produced by Collaboration Squared, a video conferencing provider that uses Cisco’s (formerly Acano’s) video servers and the Spark Cloud platform to create virtual meeting rooms. What the end user gets out of that union of resources is a video conferencing platform that strives to build-in opportunities for easy, spontaneous office communication, rather than relying only on scheduled, formal meetings.

Video Window acts as an always-on view into the heart of the remote office of distant colleagues.

Rather than book a video conference with a remote colleague in advance, Video Window allows staff to walk up to the screen and informally get the attention of their desired target. It is video conferencing for downtime–for the staff room and not the boardroom. It’s also one way of promoting team culture across remotely located company offices.

In addition to the usual array of video conferencing features–screen and file sharing, group calls and meeting recording–Video Window acts as an always-on view into the heart of the remote office of distant colleagues.

In cartoon form, it looks like this:

The goal is to promote corporate culture and allow team members to interact naturally and spontaneously across distances. To help with that social flow, Video Window has built-in whiteboarding–you can write a “hello” with your fingers on the touchscreen, for instance–and a unique knock knock feature. This feature lets you alert people to your presence even if their connection is muted by tapping on the screen and producing an audible knocking sound on the other end.

Collaboration Squared has been smart enough to market Video Window as a device meant primarily for common areas of the office, because that knock knock feature has the potential to do as much distracting as engaging.

An Always-On Video Interruption?

Video Wall is reminiscent of another always-on video conferencing solution we’ve previously discussed. Called Sneek, this group video chat solution placed a permanent view of remote teammates in the corner of each worker’s computer screen. The result was a Brady Bunch-style series of heads hovering over each employee while at their desk. Intended to provide human contact to telecommuters who would otherwise have limited casual interaction with their colleagues, it seemed to us likely to foster a paranoid sense of being under constant surveillance…and even, perhaps, pressure to socialize at the expense of work.

It works like this:

In order to be helpful to teams, Video Wall must avoid the potential pitfall of creating a distraction, whether due to a sense of being watched or to digital tapping from distant colleagues. Not only does noise like knocking break concentration, but the always-on connection creates pressure to respond.

There could be a strong social upside to introducing always-on video conferencing to the workplace.

Workplace collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams have proven popular among remotely located teams in part because they offer instant desktop video and messaging contact when the team member wants to make such contact. That kind of fluid communication lets employees express themselves and communicate on everything from the project at hand to their weekend plans without leaving their desktops–and even makes it possible for them to ignore a message for a few minutes in order to get something crucial done.

In our opinion, if Video Wall is kept out of earshot of working employees–perhaps, as the device’s website suggests, in a “water cooler” area of the office–then there could be a strong social upside to introducing always-on video conferencing to the workplace.

An Easy Solution for Socializing

We see great potential for Video Window as a social tool for strengthening remote team bonds–but it must be located away from the desks and offices where working hours are spent.

Placed in an always-on position in a staff break room or hanging on the wall of a common hallway, it could promote the kind of impromptu conversations that lead to camaraderie and unexpected ideas. Basically, when employees have time to spare on social interaction, opening a direct video link to their distant colleagues makes sense. Brown-bagging it with a teammate on the other side of the country sounds like a fun way to learn about what goes on in other corners of the business.

Video Wall has a niche place within the quest to forge a digital corporate culture.

Similarly, Video Window could be used to bridge distances between corporate locations during office parties and end-of-the-fiscal-year celebrations–we’ve already discussed just such a scenario around the holiday season. And, yes, we can also imagine occasionally running over to Video Window with a quick question for a colleague that would be more conveniently talked over via video than through email or in a chat thread.

Anything more closely tied to daily workflows, though, is more likely than not going to become a distraction. Video Wall has some nice features and a niche place within the quest to forge a digital corporate culture–let’s just keep the tapping to a minimum.

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