Connected but Alone?

I think we would all agree that technology and virtual communication through Skype, facebook, Linkedin, texting and other electronic devices has made it easier to conduct global business. It has also made it more convenient to stay connected and communicate across the world to our family and friends. Although virtual communication has become a necessity, nothing replaces human connection. Technology is not only changing what we do but who we are. It is shaping our modern relationships. As we expect more from technology do we expect less from each other?

For those times when we need to rely on virtual presence to conduct business it helps to have techniques that can stimulate better team dynamics, especially when the group is just getting to know each other. I would like to share a technique that we used at Kingbridge last year with a group of people from across North America tasked with coming together to engage in a brainstorming session.  We were unsuccessful finding a date to get everyone together in person so we decided to take advantage of our virtual communication options and connect via Skype. The owner of Kingbridge, John Abele and I were apprehensive at first of using Skype because many of the proposed working group didn’t know each other. We decided to try to create a social and relaxed atmosphere for conducting this meeting so our virtual guests would feel as included as possible among the physical group.  The result of these efforts was a virtual dinner engagement. We went so far as coordinating the menu, wine selection and how we wanted to decorate the tables with our virtual guests allowing us to share the same meal and feel like we were physically in one location. We even positioned the cameras and used larger sized monitors on both sides to create the illusion of each table virtually joining together.

The evening was a huge success. Not only did we engage in stimulating conversation and make new friends but we also were able to conduct our business objectives successfully. So, what I learned through this Skype interaction was by blending a social activity like dinner together with the business task we had to achieve it allowed a different dynamic to unfold particularly when the majority of us hadn’t met prior. The 2-hour event became playful and allowed us to connect quicker and be more creative and candid when we needed to share and critique ideas. At the end of the night we laughed because when it was time to say our goodbyes we all naturally stood up from our tables making the exchange feel similar to what we would have experienced if we were physically together. In that moment we all realized how enjoyable that virtual exchange had been and we had forgotten we were not in the same physical space.

If any of you have experiences to share where you were able to connect in a more meaningful way through a virtual medium to conduct business, please insert a post so we can learn from each other.

As a final thought I reference Sherry Turkle, founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology who poses some interesting questions for us to ponder regarding the increasing integration of virtual and physical communication today:

Are we redefining human connection and communication?
What types of new connections do we want to have?