Immersion into Remote Communication: Telepresence Robots

The LeadershipGarage collaborated with Airbus’ Leadership University North America to study how Airbus executives immersed themselves in telepresence technologies with the Beam Smart Presence system.

Working and collaborating across distances is an integral part of maintaining a digital work force. Remote communication and leadership regularly present new and unique challenges for both companies and individuals alike. This includes the demand for new communication techniques as well as the ability to cope with reduced contact while building trust and bridging cultural differences.

We conducted a research study to evaluate the Beam Smart Presence system – a controllable robot with display enabling users to have a physical presence during conversations – and to analyze its use in business environments. The research was based on interviews with executives who assessed how they used the Beam system to address the challenges of remote communication, and how they dealt with a new aspect of digital communication, being physically present. The results showed that the Beam opens an additional dimension of remote communication, and that an immersion into the system is required in order to enable comfortable communication.

We identified three levels critical to overcoming challenges and becoming digitally fluent with the Beam system. The identified levels are Personal, Interpersonal, and Organizational. Within these levels are aspects that need to be addressed in order to ensure successful communication.

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The Personal Performance level is focused on the relationship between the user and the Beam.

The goal of this level is to ensure personal success through the anticipation of potential value, acclimation to the technology, and open feedback. Here the user addresses the questions:

Why should I adopt a new technology?
How do I become comfortable?
From whom am I comfortable receiving honest feedback on my progress?

After preparing personally, it is important to approach interaction with others systematically in order to identify successful and unsuccessful practices.

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The Interpersonal Performance level is focused on understanding how human interaction is changed through the use of the Beam.

In this level, one must reflect on newly encountered situations and relearn interaction skills that were mastered for personal contact long ago. Then one must adapt and perfect the skills that they build throughout each experience in order to ensure successful future interactions. Here the user asks:

What is different about human interaction through telepresence robots?
How can I use contextual knowledge to ensure a good experience for myself and others in the future?

Before engaging and developing the Personal and Interpersonal levels, the Organizational Performance level must be addressed.

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The Organizational level is concerned with the relationship between the Beam and the organization.

This level focuses on digital culture, finding value, and the technological prerequisites necessary to make telepresence successful within an organization. Companies must address infrastructure, locate potential uses, and build digital culture by asking:

How can we, as an organization, overcome short and long term obstacles to implementing telepresence robots?
In which situations can we find value?
How do we make new communication technologies the norm going forward?

Adapting a digital culture, creating a mindset shift, and engaging new technologies prepares employees and leaders to better understand the role of technological progression within organizations. In turn, they will be more accepting to new technologies in the future, and better understand the infrastructure needs to implement them. This is a cyclical process that prepares companies for the quickly occurring digitalization of the global workforce.

This study has allowed the LeadershipGarage to identify key steps in adopting the Beam system that help successfully overcome the challenges of remote leadership. By addressing each aspect of these levels, a user will ensure that their organization can accommodate the new technology, that they are personally prepared, and that interacting with others will become natural.

For more information: Immersion into Remote Communication (PDF)

(Foto: Tom Wyatt)

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