Building a Remote Culture: Using VC for an All-Staff Meeting

A challenge facing an increasingly dispersed, literally global, workforce is how to create a workplace culture when the work “place” is virtual. How does one foster water cooler talk when there’s no water cooler?

One way is to use video conferencing, an ever-improving alternative to meeting in person. Here at BGL we don’t put air quotes around the word “meet” when we say it was nice to meet you over VC. We’re firm believers that as video conferencing services improve, they approach real life interaction.

Into this culture stepped Marty Perlmutter, a new hire for BGL, who arrived just in time to attend our all-staff meeting over VC. Below is his reflection on the experience.

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“Normal”

From Marty:

If there’s one technology (besides VR) that resolutely remains disappointing surely it’s video conferencing. Harnessed to education, video conferences are often frustrating, customarily begin with dead air as hosts struggle to make the kludge work, almost never convey a sense of intimacy among participants, choke when more than a dozen folks are involved… The causes of dismay are as numerous as there are vendors – Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx. Their names legion, their costs impressive, nearly all raise the question of their own existence, to quote one wag.

So it was with surprise and not a little delight that I shared a video conference with 28 distant participants on three continents in the annual all-team meeting of Banyan Global Learning. The system didn’t sputter. The breakout rooms worked. The darn thing operated without a single oops for an hour. Most importantly, I came away feeling I’d actually met these strangers, had begun to have a feel for them, laughed and spoke with them, and felt intrigued by the mission we shared. The presiding person paired us swiftly for breakouts. All sessions worked as planned. There was real conversation and sharing. Wonder of wonders!

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“Goofy”

Zoom was the platform. Unlike large Skype calls, we didn’t have to default to audio-only as the works choked. Videos of speakers were spotlighted. Thumbnail video of all participants persisted, and these were useful. We didn’t do tricks with graphic roll-ins but had video clips that were relevant for discussion. 

I came away convinced this system would be useful in a teaching application, as is the practice of BGL. For classroom purposes, BGL provides links to text, video, podcasts, graphics. After just 55 years of patient (and frustrated) waiting – since the premiere of “video telephone” service at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 – we may be ready to roll.

Now, the challenge becomes the instructor’s: Can you keep this experience engaging and informative? Can you catalyze interaction among participants? Can you track the progress of participants? Perhaps most important, can you forge learning circles, subgroups of students, who’ll be motivated to work together to investigate topics and collaboratively construct their understanding? 

Recent evidence is encouraging.

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