Anyone who regularly delivers workshops or presentations will know the massive impact that the layout of a room will have on the session.

An audience laid out in the lines of a theatre auditorium will be in receive mode.  Put them around tables in “Cabaret” style and they’ll talk to one another more readily. Put them all around a boardroom table and they’ll get combative. Put them behind desks and they switch into school pupil mindset (with the naughty boys and girls misbehaving). Put them in a circle with no furniture to hide behind and they’ll hate you, but their vulnerability will lead to openness (most of the time). Stand up and there is an urgency which is not there when sitting.

The physiological, psychological and cultural cues have a profound impact. My heart always drops when I turn up to run a workshop and find a pristine boardroom with immovable furniture and fine art on the walls. And no meeting room should ever have a rule of “no Blutack”.

But it struck me today that all of this rich setting for being able to help shape how people will behave goes out of the window when you come to using online technologies. Conferencing services like Microsoft Teams or Zoom or WebEx simply don’t provide the ability to set the context for how a meeting or workshop or presentation may be delivered. An online meeting is an online meeting.

And that, given what impact the physical space can have on setting the right mood, is a massive gap in being able to shift collaboration into an online space.

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