Remote work has become increasing popular over the years, with an estimated 56 percent of the United Kingdom’s population working from home. Due to this, there has been a rise in remote teams which has both positive and detrimental effects upon both employee and employer. With this in mind, the issue of virtual distance has arisen as well as some potential methods in order to address the associated problems.
A remote team refers to a group of employees who are spread across various locations, such as cities, countries, and continents, who communicate online. Examples of these include meetings across video call platforms. Remote teams do allow for a larger spread of work force which can cover demands within different counties, and have been seen to be overall a happier, more productive workforce once adequate custom training is implemented (Hirsch, 2019). However, there are some drawbacks remote teams, one of which is that around 55 percent of communication is non-verbal, therefore a lot of communication is missed when seeing peers faces on a screen (Online Reality, 2022). This can cause miscommunication between individuals as body language is key in assisting peoples understanding and decoding of what people are saying. It also enhances individuals’ conscious comprehension of people’s reactions, emotions and moods. Furthermore, 85 percent of people prefer face to face meetings because it allows for stronger, more meaningful work force relationships to develop (Online Reality, 2022). Due to this, remote teams may have a lack of work force relationships, which could decrease an individual’s sense of meaningfulness to the workforce. All of these issues and more can be related to the issue of virtual distance.
What is Virtual Distance and how does it happen?
Virtual distance is a sense of psychological and emotional detachment which unconsciously grows when most encounters and experiences are mediated by screens. Taking this into account, traditional virtual meetings leave individuals deprived of physical human connection which they would acquire in a face to face environment. This has been explained through the virtual distance model, which is made up of three factors: physical distance, operational distance, and affinity distance. In regard to physical distance, this refers to geographic distance such as not sharing the same workspace as fellow peers. Operational distance builds due to unwanted noise within the meeting system which can arise from technical problems such as poor technology. Finally, due to the absence of meaningful mutuality and motivation, affinity distance occurs, where relationships are not built nor maintained. Due to this, when there are high levels of virtual distance, project success drops by over 50 percent, cooperative and helping behaviours decrease by over 80 percent, and innovative behaviours decline by over 90 percent. This is detrimental to both employees and employers (Ferrazzi, 2014).
Can Virtual Distance be Overcome?
In order to combat virtual distance a shared context must be restored, such as enforcing webcams to be active during collaboration conversations as well as actively checking how employees are before and after meetings. Research has highlighted that there are four important factors which can help to overcome virtual distance issues. These are by having the right: team, leadership, touchpoints, and technology (Ferrazzi, 2014). These can be addressed within the traditional screen to screen environments but may be more effectively managed through the use of virtual reality.
The Role of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality can effectively address the key issues associated with virtual distance. This is by inducing the sense of presence, which can decrease the physical gap felt by individuals. Presence is a critical component within virtual reality, and helps to enhance feelings of environmental, social, and personal presence (Torisu, 2016). Furthermore, through the use of the virtual environment within virtual reality, a shared context can be achieved. This is due to the individuals appearing to be in the same room using their customised avatars. In turn, this can increase cooperation between individuals, as well as increasing motivation and project success rate.
How can VRE Help?
VRE implements virtual reality meetings, team building and training through virtual platforms, which helps to increase feelings of presence and in turn combats the issue of virtual distance. Furthermore, we implement custom training programmes in order to promote a more satisfied, productive workforce. Additionally, technological issues are addressed as all participating employees receive top of the range virtual reality equipment so that they are able to effectively participate within the meeting platforms and training programmes. In turn, this increases employees feelings of meaningfulness, as well as cooperation with peers and decreases virtual distance as well as the associated negative effects.
Ferrazzi, K. (2014). HBR.ORG Getting Virtual Teams Right.
Hirsch, A. S. (2019). Building and Leading High-Performing Remote Teams. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/building-leading-high…
Online Reality. (2022). Do we still need face to face meetings? Online Reality. https://www.onlinereality.co.uk/blog/do-we-still-need-face-to-face-meetings
Torisu, T. (2016). Sense of Presence in Social VR Experience. Interactive Architecture Lab. http://www.interactivearchitecture.org/sense-of-presence-in-social-vr-experience.html