Does our interaction with technology affect our behavior around others?

Recently, during an instructor-led training session on new conference room technology, one learner, an estimator, shared that when taking the elevator to the ninth floor, she leaves her cell phone in her pocket. When others join her in the elevator, many immediately grab their phones and look at them while the elevator goes up to avoid conversation. Since she is not looking at her cell phone, others will give her an awkward glance, wondering why she is not looking at her phone as well or why she is looking at them.

This interesting story is a great example of how technology can keep us from communicating with each other. In the workplace, we use many tools to communicate, such as email, instant messaging, conference calls, discussion boards, intranets, social media and online meetings. When using these kinds of technologies, we risk creating communication silos and breakdowns when we don’t use them the right way.

A Strategic Initiative

In this organization, throughout the regional offices, there were conference rooms with and without video conferencing equipment. There were offices that used different brands of equipment for video conferencing. Finally, in some cases, there were different types of hardware in different conference rooms in the same building. As a result of this environment, employees rarely used the video conference system. They either didn’t know how to use it or claimed that it wouldn’t work or wasn’t dependable.

In 2018, the company approved a strategic initiative from the information technology (IT) department to standardize the video conferencing hardware and software in all the regional offices by the end of 2019. The work began with the networking team’s implementing the hardware installations, while the IT training group focused on building a training program.

Naturally, there was excitement throughout the company about installing new technology and standardizing the conference rooms. However, there were two questions: Would providing this new conference room technology help create more engaging meetings, and would employees still refrain from using the technology, even though there would be an opportunity to improve collaboration?

In a brief interview during the instructional design process, an employee said he didn’t want to use video during meetings, because when the camera was off, he could focus on doing other things. (Here was an example where meetings were taking place that may not have even been necessary!)

The Positive Results of Face-to-face Conversations

So, what happens when you have a meeting with virtual participants using video conferencing? With the ability to see nonverbal elements such as facial expressions, posture and gestures, you can have more effective meetings.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, psychologist and author of “Silent Messages,” conducted several studies on nonverbal communication and found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal elements and 55% through nonverbal elements. Let those statistics sink in: They mean that when you are in an audio-only meeting, you and the other participants are missing over half of the elements of communication!

Training Design and Delivery

During the instructional design of this training program, we identified the following training objectives:

  • Making a phone call using the conference phone.
  • Joining a video call using the conference phone.
  • Displaying content from your laptop on the TV.
  • Identifying the available options for sharing your screen with attendees in the room and online.
  • Using technical support for assistance in the conference rooms.
  • Recognizing the hardware equipment that drives conferencing solutions.
  • Recognizing the software for sharing your laptop screen on the TV.

We delivered the training in 45-minute instructor-led sessions in conference rooms at each regional office. The course flow included:

  • A slideshow that covered hardware equipment, software, the status of regional and office deployment, and how to receive ongoing support (10 minutes).
  • A demonstration by the instructor of making a phone call, joining a video call and each option for sharing content from a laptop to a TV (15 minutes).
  • Hands-on practice using the technology in different ways, with the instructor available to observe and assist when needed (15 minutes).
  • A final Q&A, help installing software and/or troubleshooting technical issues (five minutes).

Here are some stats from the conference room technology initiative:

  • Total trainees: 502 people and two dogs (The dogs slept through most of the training session. Luckily, they didn’t fill out a survey!)
  • Total sessions: 93
  • Total offices: 15

The Results

By using this new technology to conduct video conference meetings, our organization expected to improve the efficiency of meetings and, in some cases, reduce the amount of time spent in the conference rooms and increase the amount of time spent at work.

To measure whether — and how — training helped us improve our meetings, we used the Kirkpatrick model. Here are some answers we received after sending out a survey and conducting randomly selected interviews.

From what you learned, what do you plan to apply back at your job?

  • Assisted a very important client in setting up a meeting.
  • I can assist others with conference room issues in the future.
  • This will be helpful to run a seamless meeting/presentation both internally and externally.

What ultimate impact do you think you might contribute to the organization as you successfully apply what you learned?

  • More efficient meetings.
  • More streamlined and collaborative conferences.
  • Beautiful and fluid meetings, internally and externally.

Over half of the trainees we interviewed said that they are using more video conferencing than they did previously.

Final Note

Driving adoption to use more video conferencing can help reduce communication breakdowns in your meetings. Providing face-to-face conversations from anywhere in the world is a great example of how technology can bring us together rather than keeping us apart.