I don’t usually write about the inner workings of the Meta-Activism Project, but our meeting today on Google+ Hangouts was a bit of a revelation.
We are a virtual organization, which means that we have no office and no two team members are even based in the same city. We rely heavily on email, GChat, and Skype to coordinate and on Google Docs to co-create content. However, none of these tools simulates presence.
I am a firm believer in the value of in-person contact to build trust and affinity. There are subconscious cues that we absorb when we see how someone speaks and gestures that cannot be conveyed through text or voice alone.
In real life there is also the opportunity for non-task interactions, like telling a joke or giving a compliment, that are less likely to happen on an email thread or conference call because of the perception of time scarcity: task-oriented emails and calls enforce a norm of productivity where casual conversation acts only as a time-filler while waiting for others to join a call.
Yet talking about work is a very narrow way to perceive personality and personality is important in a volunteer project where a lot of the motivation to engage is based on whether you like your collaborators. On a virtual volunteer project, any opportunity to build affinity through simulated presence is valuable.
For this reason, I am really excited about the free video-conference feature of Google+: the Hangout (see above). In some ways it is a technology ahead of its time. My computer’s processor was taxed by the four video streams and our Internet bandwidth was not really up to the task either. Still, it was as close to virtual presence as I’ve ever gotten, and as the director of a virtual organization that makes me very happy because I know how important that is.