A part of whilst apart from
How immersive technologies can bring isolated team members together.
Team working isn’t as easy as it sounds, but feeling part of a team is much easier when you’re in the same space, interacting freely, picking up on nuanced behaviours, making eye contact, engaging in idle chit-chat that is the essential oil of strong working relationships.
However, for many teams, the notion of being together as they carry out their work is fantastical. For these teams, they are lucky to get together three times a year, when they fly in from all over the world to develop strategies and address big enterprise issues. I’m talking about global leadership teams here, but there are many other examples of teams that are geographically dispersed, even within the same country, state or city, who can only manage to meet physically very infrequently.
For instance, I recently had a meeting with a colleague in Liverpool. We arranged to meet in the City Centre near Lime Street Train Station. I travelled over from Manchester, just 40 miles away, and my journey took one-hour-and-forty-minutes (each way). He travelled 2 miles across town and his journey took forty-five minutes. Between us, we clocked up four-hours and fifteen minutes travel time, for a 90-minute meeting. Neither of us regretted the travel, but we won’t necessarily do the same thing the next time we need to talk.
There is no doubt that much more can be achieved when team members congregate in the same room to thrash out ideas and make decisions, than when they are forced to do their work by phone or video-conferencing. It’s like the difference between live theatre and cinema: both do sort of the same thing, but the experience is very different. The energy and risk associated with live theatre, and the agency that an audience has to affect the experience is so much greater than with the passivity of cinema.
Even though it is logistically difficult and costly to get team members together more than a few times a year, most dispersed teams at least make the effort. They do so because they know the experience is richer and that there are things they can do together that are currently difficult or impossible to do whilst apart. The impact on building connections and developing closer relationships is far greater when people can engage all their five senses in a shared physical space.
The challenge we identified and set for ourselves here at Kay-Lambert Associates, was how to create a new way of dispersed teams carrying out their business in a collegiate way, and continuing to engage in team development activities without always having to be in the same physical space. Not only would this contribute to a huge financial saving for our clients, but it would also make it possible for teams to focus on team development more frequently, simply by connecting with each other through a new platform.
Technology is advancing at pace. The impossible is becoming possible. The barely possible yesterday is old news tomorrow. It can be our friend or our enemy; an aid or an impediment; a concentrator or a distraction. And people involved in working with teams, will have little choice but to harness the power of this technology to keep teams together, maintain team development momentum, and help people build strong connections with their team colleagues.
It’s a challenge that our company, Kay-Lambert Associates, are facing head on. We’ve teamed up with Immersive Storylab, an exciting and creative immersive tech company with experience in the film, tv, gaming and live events, to develop solutions for remote and dispersed teams that keep people feeling emotionally connected and a part of something bigger than themselves, even when they are apart.
Through the combined use of immersive technologies, gamification, AI and strong team metrics, we are developing systems that can replicate and, in some cases, enhance what is possible in a physical meeting, through an engaging virtual one.
Whilst the task isn’t small, the compulsion is huge. Environmental considerations must begin to take centre-stage when determining the cost value of people traveling from all four corners of the world to meet in a single location. And efficiency considerations need to come to the fore, ensuring that teams can continue to be productive, as teams, even when its members are physically separated. So, whilst there is clearly a financial imperative, this is more than matched by climate and productivity drivers.
Over four hours travel for a ninety-minute meeting doesn’t always make good sense, so our goal is to create something that is sufficiently compelling for team members to see it as a viable alternative to hopping on a plane for twelve hours, or a train for three.
Something that generates the same level of interest, engagement and excitement that can be achieved through meeting colleagues in person.
Something that generates the same levels of energy and participation that you get in a workshop.
And something that gently steers the team towards ever better ways of working together. In this way, team development doesn’t have to be put on hold until everyone can rock up in the same physical room.
People will continue to need to meet. There truly is no complete substitute for the type of interaction that takes place with proximity, where all our senses are engaged. But that doesn’t mean we have to go without developing those vital connections and team working practices just because we can’t share a room.