As a sort of kick-off to using Skype we scheduled a meeting for everyone at the main office to meet in the conference room and video-conference with our co-workers at our three remote locations.
To keep a casual atmosphere we planned on everyone eating lunch in the conference room, and welcomed the remote people to bring their lunch to the meeting as well. This added a fun twist for everyone that we could have a “lunch meeting” with people in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas. For many of us, this was the first time we got to see the faces of the remote employees. Some people already had regular contact with remote employees (over the phone/through email/instant messaging), but several newer employees had not. For the newer employees, myself included, this was the first introduction to people we only knew of as names and job titles. What a difference it makes to be able to put a face to a name!
During this meeting it was announced that the remote employees would be making a trip out to Michigan to visit our main office. I think it was exciting for everyone to see each other online, and know they would soon be seeing each other in person. I think everyone began to feel more connected to each other, which helped increase Skype usage.
We started to notice a definite increase in everyone using Skype. Everyone was staying signed into Skype all day, and everyone began adding pictures to their profile. It seems kind of silly to think having a tiny picture next to your name in a contact list would make a difference, but it only adds to the personalization of the medium. Even if you are going to send a quick instant message with Skype, you have a reminder right next to their name of what the person looks like. It might even be easier to find someone in a long list of contacts by searching for a face instead of a name.
It is also important to note the first meeting was used to introduce the Skype technology and touch base with the remote employees. We didn’t have anything else on the agenda, so it became a time to introduce everyone and talk about the upcoming visit to Michigan. Keeping this first meeting laid-back demonstrated how using Skype, or any type of video-conference, opens up your communication to being a little more personal.
Small-talk can be easily eliminated in a lot of computer-media communication, and in some ways this could be seen as a way to stay focused on the task at hand. While eliminating the “water cooler chat” type of discussion might seem like a way to avoid distractions it ends up undermining co-worker relationships.
There needs to be a balance between task-oriented communication and relationship-building communication. It is important to combat the feelings of isolation which may develop in virtual teams or with remote employees, so it becomes necessary for people working remotely to find ways to mimic “face-to-face” relationships with fellow team members. Often forming personal relationships within a team yields more trusting and supportive work relationships; this helps make a team more successful and efficient.