Before saying anything else, I want to be clear that I’m biased. I love in-person interactions with people. Whether it’s user research or just working with colleagues, I’ll go the extra mile or two or a thousand (really!) to get in-person face time.

There is a richness of interaction, of communication that comes from the sync of not only words but also body language and simply put, the humanity of being with others.

But simultaneously, I do understand the value of working from home  as well as, for some people and some businesses, the critical necessity.

The communication pipe is not the same

So, while it’s absolutely fine to say that working remotely for a given project or company or job makes the most sense (and admittedly is probably the most environmentally friendly option), it’s untrue to say that the communication pipe can ever be exactly the same.

The acoustics are not quite the same when a song is compressed into digital bits of data, and human interaction is no different; some of the richness of that interaction is simply lost along the way.

Degrees of interaction

For sure, there are degrees. When possible, in-person interaction clearly provides the richest and brightest stream of uncompressed communication. This is true for a meeting, a conversation or a research activity. In-person offers the greatest opportunity for one of the buzz words of my profession: empathy.

Next, perhaps, is remote but with video. At least you can see each other, but you’re going to miss out on some body language as well as truly being able to look someone in the eye. And even nearly two decades into the twenty-first century, the video is going to sometimes cut out or become choppy, just because.

After that is audio-only. At least you can hear voice intonation, but there is no visible body language at all to interpret the conversation. And there’s likely some loss of attention as the distraction of other devices becomes more salient.

Then there is only words – where emojis or stickers or gifs or old-school emoticons are the only avenue to kinda sorta partially convey emotion and nuance – and where misinterpretation is not just likely but at some point or other inevitable.

The future

At this point, augmented/virtual reality is not there yet. At best, an avatar is little better than a phone call and not even at the level of a webcam. But we’re certainly getting closer. In not too long, it really may be possible to slip on a headset or use a 3D projector to truly feel others’ presence as if they were really there.

But we’re not there yet

Since we’re not there yet, however, whenever possible take the opportunity for that in-person interaction. And if you give me the opportunity to work with you or others or do research with participants remotely or in-person, know that I will choose that uncompressed and wonderful in-person communication stream!

Image: / Funtap