Transcribe is not only a laboratory to test new ideas, it is also a test kitchen for tools that facilitate effective collaboration. The virtual world is becoming more and more mainstream and we at Collective Next have been considering how we can harness its power to bring people together and move them forward. At TEDx Boston 2012, we were introduced to the amazing vritual environment that AvayaLive offers and they were kind enought to build us a virtual office. So today, we all sat around a table as we usually do, but did so as avatars in our AvayaLive Environment to explore the limitations and benefits of virtual collaboration.

The online environment is relatively new to all of us, so the first half of our discussion featured a lot of wardrobe changes, jumping on tables, hand waving, and laser pointing. As our AvayaLive representative warned us, it took about 30 minutes for the technology to disappear and begin to feel as though we were physically in the Lab collaborating like usual.

Our AvayaLive representative also suggested hosting an hour long “avatar aerobics”, an initial experimentation period where participants can explore and learn the skills necessary to be able to function as a full participant, prior to an initial meeting. Advice we would have benefited from heeding.

Like Halloween, we were struck by the significant affect the virtual environment had on individual and group behavior. Though we still had the same power to influence the other people in the room and to be influenced by them, the rules of engagement changed. We walked into each other and laughed, we jumped on tables and no one blinked, we pointed lasers at each other and no one was annoyed. Needless to say, people would react a little differently if we engaged in the same behaviors in our real office! But, the veil of a virtual environment acted like a mask that removed us from agreed upon social norms, encouraging a wider array of behaviors. 

This reaction stimulated us to consider designing activities to intentionally elicit it. Encouraging participants to increase their variety of action could significantly increase their creativity when solving business challenges.

Similarly, we discussed whether the veil of the virtual environment could extend to the level of sincerity that participants feel comfortable sharing during a meeting. Oscar Wilde may have been correct when he said, “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.” The longer we were in the virtual office, the less of a masking effect it had. Yet, a virtual environment allows you to manipulate the environment easily. Intentionally exaggerating certain aspects, such as participants’ clothes or furniture could elicit more sincere feedback from participants. For example, sending participants to a bright and luxurious virtual room to consider a future state scenario where the firm has achieved their long-term goals may increase their ability to assimilate such a scenario, enhancing their ability to identify the factors necessary to achieve it.

We had a lot of fun in our virtual office, so some things do not change in the virtual environment. We will continue to experiment in it and will post our findings. Please share your virtual meeting experiences and best practices with us below!