When we conduct synchronous (live) virtual meetings, we use technologies like speakerphones, bridge lines, desktop cameras, and videoconference rooms. We enhance immediacy by transmitting voices or video to all attendees. But technology isn't free, and it's far short of real life. To compromise, we sometimes gather in small clusters, and connect the clusters together. For example, three people at one site might connect via one camera or speakerphone to small groups at other sites seated in front of similar cameras or speakerphones. Or four people gather around a speakerphone, while a fifth calls in from a distant site.
Such geometries are asymmetric — attendees have unequal access to the shared environment. Symmetric geometries, such as bridge lines or at-your-desk video equipment, grant to all attendees (except perhaps the Chair or facilitator) equal access to the shared environment.
Equal Access to the Shared Environment (EASE) offers advantages over Unequal Access to the Shared Environment (UNEASE). Some examples:
- Technological uniformity
- In EASE meetings, because all participants have equal access, we need to distribute only one set of connection instructions to attendees. This simplifies the instructions, testing, and tech support. Moreover, in UNEASE meetings, variability in connection quality between the attendee and the shared environment can place some people at a disadvantage, if they're more difficult to understand or if their connections break frequently. In EASE meetings, any non-uniformity of the individual connections is due to the attendee's method of connecting to the shared environment, rather than to the way the shared environment provides connection service.
- Self-facilitation for small meetings
- EASE Equal Access to the Shared
Environment (EASE) offers
advantages over Unequal
Access to the Shared
Environment (UNEASE)makes small meetings more like ordinary conversations. Attendees often self-facilitate. Small EASE meetings are less formal, ideas flow more freely, and people get more done with less frustration.
- Easier facilitation for larger meetings
- Facilitating a large UNEASE meeting is, um, not easy. Special skills and attention are required (see "Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I," Point Lookout for March 26, 2008). By contrast, facilitating an EASE meeting is much more straightforward, because it's more like facilitating a face-to-face meeting.
- Simpler conflict management
- Managing conflict entails either keeping constructive conflict constructive or making destructive conflict less destructive, or sometimes both. It's never simple. In EASE meetings, conflict management is simpler than in UNEASE meetings, because of reduced complications arising from the misunderstandings, frustrations, and misrepresentations that are associated with unequal access to the shared environment.
- More balance in contributions
- In any meeting, some individuals might dominate the give-and-take. Dominance by a few is more likely in UNEASE meetings, because some people have better access to the "virtual floor." If those people happen to be among those who tend to dominate any meeting, controlling them is especially difficult. In EASE meetings, where everyone has equal capability to gain the virtual floor, controlling the dominators is no more difficult than it would be in face-to-face meetings.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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