Communicating in your virtual team: The pros & cons of visual vs. audio conferencing

by | Nov 24, 2023 | Innovation

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Do we overuse video calls when a simple audio call could be better?

I spent much of my time when I was a marketing manager for a global life sciences company, in pre-Covid times, dialing in for audio meetings with colleagues located across Asia, the US, and Europe. Back then, I could walk around with my headset on and notebook in hand, deeply focusing on what was being said. Colleagues could be calling in from their car, stuck in traffic in Bangalore on the way to the office and I can’t remember major glitches, just the honking of Bangalore traffic.

At times, when I really want to get stuff done, I find that meetings can be more effective with a simple audio call, without the video distractions. Whilst videoconferencing is valuable for connecting and showing content in real-time, it’s extremely fatiguing, especially if everyone has their cameras on, taking a heavy cognitive load. It also tends to fix people to their seats – remember, sitting is the new smoking! If every meeting you have is a video call, you will be extremely exhausted at the end of the day.

Whilst audio and video conferencing each have their benefits and drawbacks, you need to choose the right tool for the right job. When you next need to communicate with a person or team, write down your objective for this meeting, consider the environments that participants will be in at the time of the call, and consider which method could be best: video or audio only. Whilst audio might seem less popular these days, its effectiveness as a means of communicating is on the rise beyond our offices. You can see this with the explosion of podcasts and radio is still alive and well.

The choice of tools we use for communication & “Zoom fatigue” are fascinating areas that researchers are studying, and I love following and reading the findings. Understanding how we best communicate in virtual teams is important for maximising our ability to innovate when working remotely.

Here is a table that outlines some of the key practical differences with using Video vs. Audio Conferencing from my real-world experience:

Video Conferencing (VC)Audio Conferencing (AC)
Oversight of employees

High

Everyone can see you if cameras are expected to be on.

Valued in low-trust environments.

Low

You can hang out the washing while on the call or lie on your bed and relax.

Valued in high-trust environments.

Physical movement

Low

Tends to be little movement with people sitting at their desks.

Beware of the dangers of multitasking (walking/cycling/driving) whilst on a VC call!

Mid-to-high

It can depend on the content. Whilst people might sit at a desk, they can still get up and walk around as they need to, or do other physical activities.

Note-taking

Passive/active process

There can be an over-reliance on recording the complete meeting rather than capturing the key points. However, participants can also be requested to take notes and actions, as for AC.

Active process

Participants need to be active in taking notes and actions with owners. Audio conferencing is typically not recorded.

Updating meeting absentees

Highly valuable

Recording of the entire meeting can be shared.

However, this can also waste their time if all they need to know are the key points discussed and actions.

It depends

It depends on how well the notes and actions were captured.

If captured well, this saves participants from spending excessive time in watching the VC recording.

Overall level of exhaustion

High

Apart from an overall reduction in mobility, exhaustion is increased due to excessive eye contact, seeing yourself (like constantly looking in a mirror), and there is a higher cognitive load as it takes more effort to send and receive signals.

Lower
Effectiveness for visuals

High

Better when a participant is directing people through visuals, step-by-step.

Low

Slide decks or video links can be sent to participants before the meeting.

Sharing video links can be an easy way to ensure a high-quality video experience for participants.

However, VC is generally a better way to go!

Large group sizesAllows for delivery to large groups with the added benefit of the chat function to allow participants to have a voice.Better for one-way delivery of information to a large group.
Valuing diversity

Allows all participants to be heard as anyone can post into the chat function. This can be helpful when people might not feel comfortable in speaking up for a range of reasons.

However, this can also lead to additional strings of conversation that can distract everyone from the main speaker.

No chat function; relies on participants feeling comfortable and able to speak up.

 

If you are interested and want to learn more, contact us.

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