PARIS.- If I narrowed my eyes a little bit, I could convince myself that the people on the other side of the office table were in the same room. But they weren’t: I was seated at a conference table near Paris, and they were in an office outside of London.
The visual trickery, created by several hundred thousand euros’ worth of high-end videoconferencing equipment, could make a telecommuting believer out of anyone. It was at once slightly disconcerting – and inspiring.
With a setup like this – two identical rooms whose lighting, color scheme and audiovisual systems are designed to give the appearance of a single workspace – even the most Luddite of office workers could be convinced to confer remotely.
But Cisco Systems, the company that built and sells the TelePresence system, also realizes that mobile work has its downside. A study it released last month showed it takes a certain kind of personality to withstand a work life away from the power center of company headquarters.
The necessary traits include resilience, extroversion, openness to new experiences, self-confidence and self-motivation.
“Mobile workers are at risk of stress, isolation and alienation from their employers,” concluded the report, which was compiled for Cisco by Pearn Kandola, a business psychology firm in Oxford, England. “Managing mobile workers effectively demands high levels of trust, respect for individual autonomy, and close attention to communication styles and content.”
Of course, mobile work today comes in many different styles – from those who work in the head office but are frequently on business trips, to sales agents and consultants whose main work is on the road, to the flex-time worker who can and prefers to make the spare bedroom at home a mini-office upon occasion.
Equally, videoconferencing comes in several flavors: the “executive” systems like this one from Cisco and rivals like Hewlett-Packard; a mid-grade version, like the HP Halo model introduced Tuesday that costs “only” $250,000; portable units with large TV screens; and a handful of desktop varieties that use Webcams with personal computers.
Binna Kandola, co-founder of the psychology firm, noted that two-thirds of the information we take in is in the form of visual cues, like a shrug, a smile or a yawn. Mobile workers without access to video miss all of that, making constant phone or e-mail contact with remote employees critical for managers.
“Part of the solution is to create a realistic job preview so that you are attracting the right kind of candidate from the outset,” Kandola said.
Clive Sawkins, Cisco’s European director of unified communications, said some of the interest in TelePresence is coming from organizations, like banks and universities, that maintain outposts not around the world but in different parts of Europe, or even opposite ends of big countries like Germany.
“It has been European businesses that have been driving implementation quicker,” Sawkins said, particularly in London and Frankfurt, where financial firms value a New York video connection.
Persuading CEOs, he claims, is not a problem. “This is the one technology that the executive community has gotten very quickly,” he said.
Cisco builds not just the audio and video, but the whole room – everything but the chairs – using non-reflective colors on the walls and wood for the tables that has a density that won’t hurt the sound. The location of the cameras and speakers aid the illusion of “presence,” as the sound appears to come from the direction of those speaking.
One of the byproducts of vast bandwidth is the improvement in “latency” – the lag time between sending and receiving. It was imperceptible in the videoconference I attended: Lips moved at the same time that sound arrived, and we could interrupt each other and make interjections without clumsy delays.
Since the 1960s, the arrival of quality videoconferencing has always been just around the corner. Today, cheap bandwidth and a “green” effort among companies to save energy (i.e., travel) costs are new reasons that now might again be the time, at least if upfront costs are not the issue.
I would be happy to help: I have just the right size second bedroom to accommodate a TelePresence suite.
Fuente: International Herald Tribune