Google has some insight for us: it’s how you work that matters, not where you work.
The tech behemoth is one of the most widely dispersed companies in the world, with its workforce of almost 100,000 spread out across 150 cities in 50 countries. Naturally, those people are communicating in a virtual world of emails, chats, and video conferencing. This remote collaboration led Google to decide to measure the effectiveness of this 21st-century form of work.
The results weren’t too surprising to the team here at VC Daily–but they were satisfying. It turns out that there’s no real difference between sharing a video call and sharing on office–at least not when it comes to job performance and career development. The effectiveness of video conferencing means that the performance ratings, opportunities for promotion, and general well-being of employees who work in virtual environments are the same as they are for those who work in shared physical spaces.
If what is true for Google is also true for the general workforce, then video conferencing and virtual collaboration allow us to advance our careers without having to compromise our lifestyle.
The Effectiveness of Video Conferencing According to Google
Google’s two-year study of its own virtual working environments was a product of necessity, not curiosity. It wasn’t a theoretical study of technological potential, but an attempt to understand the reality as it currently operates within the company.
The company’s colonization of the world with offices has resulted in some startling virtual workplace facts:
- 48% of meetings involve people working from two or more buildings
- 39% of meetings involve at least two cities
- 30% of meetings involve at least two time zones
Given these realities, it is no wonder Google wanted to gauge the effectiveness of video conferencing. With half of its meetings occurring between workers separated by distance, poor video collaboration would be disastrous.
Virtual teams do need to work harder to establish comradery and the free flow of ideas.
As you can infer from the company’s continued growth–parent company Alphabet enjoyed a 26% value increase in a single quarter of 2018 alone–video conferencing isn’t slowing down production or performance. On the contrary, the study found no significant difference between the performance or career fortunes of those working virtually and those working in a building beneath the famous rainbow logo.
It did discover, however, that virtual teams need to work harder to establish comradery and the free flow of ideas than their cubicle-sharing colleagues. Unlike others, Google has approached that fact as a challenge to be overcome rather than a reason to abandon virtual workplaces.
Google Says Yes Where IBM Said No
Google would appear to have a natural affinity toward digital communication since it is primarily a digital company. However, technology companies haven’t always embraced new forms of working. IBM, one of the oldest digital firms, famously turned its back on its well-established virtual workforce a few years ago, citing a lack of corporate culture. Despite saving more than $100 million annually on real estate costs alone by encouraging remote work, Big Blue abandoned the idea in the middle of this decade, a move that mirrored Yahoo’s similarly short-sighted decision to recall its telecommuters.
Corporate culture can thrive in a digital environment as long as those working remotely aren’t forgotten about or treated as second-class citizens.
Instead of throwing out its video conferencing culture–and the related benefits for employers–Google found ways to use digital technology to remotely build culture. The tech giant’s remote working philosophy is built around several basic ideas:
- Give virtual teams freedom to create their own meeting spaces
- Encourage social connections across digital platforms
- Include remote employees in all relevant meetings
- Encourage a work/life balance that respects different time zones
- Publicly acknowledge the work of remote individuals in shared forums
These themes are explained in greater detail in Google’s Distributed Work Playbooks, but you don’t have to take too big a gulp of the Alphabet Kool-Aid in order to understand the basic message.
Corporate culture can thrive in a digital environment as long as those working remotely aren’t forgotten about or treated as second-class citizens. As other research has found, simple acts such as sharing lunch breaks and opening meetings with casual small talk can create lasting team bonds.
Work Where You Want to Live
Video conferencing is experiencing a period of growing pains. As the technology gains a foothold in the average workplace, it brings with it new challenges and changes. The interface used to make calls has to be experienced before it can be mastered. Daily workflows have to be adjusted for digital convenience. People have to adapt to using multiple devices to access shared resources.
Telecommuting may ultimately change when and even where we live.
What endorsement such as Google’s does to help the process is to validate the goal at the end of the learning curve. Just as telemedicine has to prove itself a worthy accompaniment to traditional medicine before it gains widespread adoption, so, too, does video in the workplace.
Once it gains that public trust, it has enormous potential to influence office work. As we’ve discussed previously, telecommuting may ultimately change when and even where we live. If one’s career prospects are undiminished by working from home–as Google’s findings attest–then employees are free to live and work where they please. If the difference in time zone affects collaboration, then employees might shift their hours–not everyone needs to work from nine to five.
By proving the effectiveness of video conferencing, Google has given a green light to businesses of all sizes to offer employees the freedom to live and work as they choose. That’s no small accomplishment.