On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy
Thoughts on Running the Flipside Workspace versus Videoconferencing Study
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, so I’ll first address the slowdown on my blog. Thankfully, this isn’t about running out of steam but, rather, preoccupation with projects – including the Flipside Workspace user experience study which I mentioned in January 2015. As it is wrapping up, this is a good time to revisit it and provide detailed information. What I left unmentioned previously is that this study contrasts users’ experience meeting in Flipside Workspace with videoconferencing across various psychological dimensions.
For those who’re new to Flipside Workspace, this is an avatar-based, 3-dimensional digital workspace. It’s best described at Flipside Workspace’s site as, “an immersive online business district that takes those perks of real-life office dynamics and brings them into a virtual environment.” To see how elaborately crafted the environment is, watch this video.
While interacting with participants, some pointed out the practicalities of meeting face-to-face via video conferencing (i.e., people want to see who they’re dealing with, facial expressions provide more information, etc.), which leads to the question, “Why have an avatar-based platform?” However, I ask instead, should we believe everything we see? A view on face-to-face meetings that’s often missed is that facial expressions can also be a source of misinformation when culturally-specific facial expressions and body language differ. I’ve addressed this issue here and here.
-Isms like Ageism
Besides misreading unfamiliar, culturally-based facial expressions or body language, some of us want our work, not our faces, to represent our professionalism and competence. For instance, despite not being a member of Generation Y by a long-shot, I know that an unflattering Gen Y stereotype exists because it’s often been projected onto me during video or face-to-face interactions (or even after people view my social media profile picture). Though I correct the mistake, some are prone to forgetting and continue patronizing (unknowingly) out of habit.
Many wish to have this problem, but they haven’t experienced how severely it can impact one’s credibility. It’s not uncommon for a young-looking person’s opinions to be ignored since a youthful appearance is associated with a lack of life experience and wisdom – and this can function as a handy scapegoat for brushing off opinions one doesn’t want to consider. Whether or not lack of life experience or wisdom is the real problem, of course, depends on the particular case in question (and even older people can lack both if they’ve “lived under a rock”). Correlations and averages aren’t useful when dealing with people on an individual basis.
Furthermore, when judging whether people are wise for their age or lacking in experience and wisdom, some arbitrariness is involved. At any given time, you may receive contradictory evaluations that supposedly have something to do with your age. Older individuals of the same age can can come to different conclusions simply because some agree with you (so you’re “wise for your age”) while others don’t (i.e., “you need more life experience”). Also, individuals of just about any age group have different abilities to comprehend you to begin with (since individuals develop in different ways and at different rates).
To be sure, ageism towards the old exists too. Older people may experience being written off as “behind the times” or “senile” for example. And, on another note, by stating that ageism and other -isms exist, I’m not saying that they are everywhere because individuals vary in their propensity to perpetuate them. However, the absence of visual cues encourages people to deal with information on its own merit. For this reason, I enjoy non face-to-face forms of communication like writing.
Blindness to Demographic Information
While I understand that most people I work with will want to see who I am in the flesh, interacting in Flipside Workspace has been a welcome respite. During this study, participants observed that there wasn’t any basis upon which they could guess my age (along with other normally visible features). There was a sense that we were on an even playing field and that we only earn respect through our words, deeds, and actions.
On a final note, I’d like to see more opportunities to practice focusing on how people communicate and work (instead of facial features) in order to arrive at a true representation of their professionalism. Hence, I’d like to see usage of platforms like Flipside Workspace gain traction. Until then, I’ll toy with the idea of having my mother sit in my stead during video conferencing meetings (since she looks my age) and silently move her lips while I throw my voice, ventriloquist-style.
Coming up soon: The Flipside Workspace versus videoconferencing report and more!