As millions across the globe work remotely via video calls, most of them miss in-person, face-to-face conversations in offices and there is nothing wrong in disliking remote meetings. Google has made an effort to dig into the science behind remote communication and found some interesting nuggets of information for workers. According to Zachary Yorke, UX Researcher at Google, humans are hardwired for the fast-paced exchange of in-person conversation.
Humans have spent about 70,000 years learning to communicate face-to-face, but video conferencing is only about 100 years old. When the sound from someone's mouth doesn't reach your ears until a half-second later, you notice," said Yorke. That's because we're ingrained to avoid talking at the same time while minimizing silence between turns.
A delay of five-tenths of a second (500 millisecond) — whether from laggy audio or fumbling for the unmute button — is more than double what we're used to in-person. These delays mess with the fundamental turn-taking mechanics of our conversations. At the office, meetings usually start with some impromptu, informal small talk. We share personal tidbits that build rapport and empathy.
"Making time for personal connections in remote meetings not only feels good, it helps you work better together. Science shows that teams who periodically share personal information perform better than teams who don't. And when leaders model this, it can boost team performance even more," suggested the Google executive. Research shows that on video calls where social cues are harder to see, we take 25 percent fewer speaking turns.
But video calls have something email doesn't: eye contact. "We feel more comfortable talking when our listeners' eyes are visible because we can read their emotions and attitudes. This is especially important when we need more certainty—like when we meet a new team member or listen to a complex idea," Yorke noted. When things go wrong, remote teams are more likely to blame individuals rather than examining the situation, which hurts cohesion and performance.
"Have an open conversation with your remote teammates about your preferred working styles and how you might complement each other," said Google. Conversations on calls are less dynamic, and the proverbial "talking stick" gets passed less often. "Identify calls where conversational dynamics could be better. Encourage more balanced conversation, help some get their voice heard and remind others to pass the talking stick," said Yorke.