Can telepresence robots bring remote teams closer?

By , 3 January 2017 at 16:53
Can telepresence robots bring remote teams closer?

Can telepresence robots bring remote teams closer?

By , 3 January 2017 at 16:53

We’ve had telepresence on our SciFi minds for decades now, ever since Princess Leia first asked for Obi Wan Kenobi’s help from the depths of R2D2. But instead of just a memory, wouldn’t it be cooler to be live? Scotty isn’t ready to beam us up yet, but technology has enabled almost any job to be done from almost anywhere.

Already, about a quarter of the U.S. workforce at least partially telecommutes. It makes us more productive too, with 76 percent of people surveyed by FlexJobs saying that if they had important work to do, they tried to avoid the office, choosing to work from anywhere else for increased productivity and focus.

But what changes in this type of remote interaction? How do we communicate and interact with rooms we aren’t in?

Lisette Sutherland has given remote team collaboration workshops from and to countries around the world, via a Kubi — a stand fitted for your tablet or iPad that allows you to move up and down and side to side — and a BeamPro — a portable robot that you can remotely steer via your mouse or keyboard. These workshops often have teams collocated while she is remote, but can also have a blend of in-person and remote robotic attendees. She shared her experience in robotic telepresence with us. As you can imagine, it’s all about focusing on making the tech and you more approachable, doing anything to increase interaction.

One particular challenge in a mixed remote room is simply who is recognizing whom.

“The way that we differentiate between the remote attendees and the in-person attendees is we say that the remote attendees are ‘in the robot’ and the in person attendees are ‘in the flesh.’

Lisette did point out that at least these kinds of robots can’t point, so you better know your audience.

“It’s good to know people’s names because in a robot you can’t really point to someone, so in a group discussion it’s good to call on people by name.”

Of course, if you are running a remote workshop, you can probably cheat by creating photo dossiers ahead from their LinkedIn profiles.

She also noted, “When you’re in a robot, you can’t shake hands with people, of course. But what you can do is a fist bump. That’s a more 2D approach.”

Once you make small tweaks, you should be able to adapt any virtual workspace into an experience comparable to that of a regular office space.

What are small ways to find success with remote working?

I’ve been working with Lisette on the 100 percent remote Happy Melly team for about two years now, and she became one of my closest friends well before we had ever met in person. Having only worked in offices before, I’ve learned a lot from her and, frankly, I don’t see a need to ever go back to a 9 to 5.

One of the important lessons is that of video — the finicky conference room spider phones are finally fading away as we get more personal with videoconferencing. This creates a sense of closeness and camaraderie, sometimes enhanced by pets and kids interrupting, while other times it’s just pointing out someone’s new haircut.

Another lesson learned is taking advantage of the right tools for your team. While each different department has its 30-minute video meeting once a week, the majority of our communication is asynchronous and continuous over Slack for chatting, Trello for project management, and IDoneThis for sharing what each of us did each day. We also have peer-to-peer recognition via Bonusly. For those video calls, we’ve chosen Zoom because it enables us to have equal screen share, Brady Bunch style.

And don’t forget how access to good Internet is a must for any remote team.  

Of course almost all of our team members are expats living across the globe, so perhaps we are more accustomed to this type of virtual lifestyle. But the millennial generation is used to this autonomy and is super gadget-savvy, so you can expect your new hires to expect access to the remote life too.

What tools do you use to make remote working more humane? Tweet to us @TefDigital and @JKRiggins!

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