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The Limitations of Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing technology can affect the way employees interpret information and make judgments.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Videoconferencing in the Field: A Heuristic Processing Model
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Carlos Ferran and Stephanie Watts

Management Science, vol. 54, no. 9

Date Published: 
September 2008 

With team members spread across the globe, many companies now rely on videoconferences to conduct meetings, run corporate training programs, and convey company-wide communications. But although the benefits are clear — and include a reduction in travel costs and the ability to streamline decision-making processes among geographically distributed teams — the authors argue that videoconferencing is still an imperfect substitute for face-to-face communication. After surveying medical professionals during a series of seminars, the authors found that employees process information differently when it’s presented via videoconference. While watching a presentation on screen, the doctors tended to be influenced more by a speaker’s likeability than by the quality of his or her arguments. The opposite was true for those who attended live presentations. The authors attribute this phenomenon to the higher cognitive demands (including turn-taking, conversation pacing, and heightened self-awareness) that videoconferencing places on viewers; the cognitive distractions make it more difficult for the viewers to process the information being communicated. The authors suggest guidelines for usage and technical improvements to the technology that could help mediate these effects.
Bottom Line:
Videoconferencing technology can help companies cut costs, but executives should be aware that it can affect the way employees interpret information and make judgments.


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