DesignMap

4 C’s of Video Conferencing: Collaboration

by Nathan Kendrick
6 min read

Our Ideas, Our Selves

Collaboration can be simply defined as working jointly together. Expanded, that means that you can respond to an idea, contribute to its evolution, and synthesize as a group to get to a better outcome. This is done best when the first two topics in our series, Communication and Confidence are achieved. In summary, communicating authentically in an environment of privacy and security, allows for true openness.

Bridging these to collaboration means to create a shared space, one we believe must be based in equality and inclusivity. This creates a foundation for respectful presence of individuals in the group, that freely brings forth ideas.

Current design tools enable collaboration by allowing multiple people to share a space (a file), at the same time, with the same level of prominence given to their ideas. They enable anyone invited to quite literally author ideas, copy/paste and edit others. Video conferencing does have “collaboration tools” such as pens and annotations that draw on screen. More simplistically, people collaborate by holding up a scribbled up stickie note to the camera to illustrate a quick thought to colleagues. But with so many tools specializing in collaboration already out there — Google Docs, Figma, even Keynote — we often are just viewing those collaboration tools via video conferencing. The best way video conferencing can support collaboration is by creating a sense of space in which recognition and acknowledgement goes to individuals and their ideas. Or in other words, honoring the presence in which people are coming together to contribute their thoughts, respond to others, and together synthesize a new and better outcome in a video session.

Presence in video conferencing is created in two ways: giving space for the ideas being offered to resonate across a group, and giving appropriate prominence to the individuals offering their contributions and responses. However, the challenge lies in: how can you fit all those people contributing and responding, and all their materials and ideas, in a focused way within the confines of just one viewport? Current options generally choose one over the other. Some solutions heighten the ideas being offered up — what the group is contributing and responding to — while others focus on the people involved, emulating the quality of physical presence as if sitting together in a shared space.

Our Ideas

When we share our screen, we are usually pushing the human element aside, focusing almost exclusively on the clarity of the ideas we are trying to express. We are all likely familiar with the sentiment of wanting to share your screen, but having to wait and coordinate with your colleagues to stop sharing theirs first à la Zoom or Teams. Google Meet, however, actually treats your shared materials as yet another presence in the “room.” When you share, your screen enters as you — again — as if the thought you are looking to share and iterate on is as important as your own self. Others can equally share at the same time, with any previously shared screens still persistent, sitting alongside in the other attendees in even, equal treatment.

Then there is mmhmm, which basically makes you the news caster of your video session, and the contents of your shared screen always in view, sitting over-your-shoulder. From there, your materials can take even more prominence by minimizing your own physical projection, and fitting it into presentation itself. You then can disappear in your work even more so by making your own image become transparent, literally letting your ideas shine through you. Frames below are from their Youtube video demostrating the user experience.

Our Selves

Alternatively, other options, like OWL Labs and design concept "Square," pin the importance of our physical presences in how to best collaborate, and try to craft a more realistic sense of space. They strive to make you feel as if you are really sitting together, and the human presence is in fact there in the moment with you. Instead of replicating the human form and its expressions in exacting ways such as VR, they are picking up on the essence, subtext and nuance of people being together. Sometimes it’s our subtle secondary forms of communication — gestures, expressions, an environment in which those unstated sentiments can carry — that best respond to posed ideas.

OWL Labs

Square does this by creating a shade you draw down, revealing your colleague in life size, as if sitting outside a window from you. The Meeting Owl approaches this solution by optimizing sound and visuals: a 360 degree camera pivots to the people speaking, highlighting their image as soon as they begin to speak, attempting to give an appropriate level of respect to their contribution. Despite different tactics, both these options try to convey an element of human presence in a set up that has spatial limitations. To collaborate well, additional various subtler inputs (facial expressions, smaller physical movements) need to be apparent, because verbal or not, they are responses to what is being presented. Those then become contributions to a jointly synthesized outcome.

In the end, maybe the best approach video conferencing can take is really less about how many tools can be packed into a single application. Rather, maybe heightening our nuanced presences — our physical, social and emotional ones, as well as the representation of our intellectual and creative ones — is the hook. Whatever keeps ideas at the forefront and our ability to truly perceive one another as contributors and responders in real-time is the foundation of the best way to co-create remotely.

Design Concept "Square"

All these Privacy & Security features exist to protect us during video conferencing so that we can be more open about what we’re discussing and sharing. Whether it’s a doctor’s teleconference call or a work meeting, we believe this openness helps us to connect with one another.


We are interested in diving deep into ways to best connect while remote during this pivotal time. If you work in video or any form of digital communication, we would jump at the opportunity to help.


Links & Resources

This multi-part report was generated from ~100 hours of desk research, insights, and design by Sean Jalleh, Maggie Feuchter, and Vivian Lee. Directed by Nathan Kendrick and Audrey Crane.

As always, we're here to help

DesignMap is in the fortunate position to be of help to companies during this challenging time. We are working overtime with our current clients to build nimble-yet-steady capabilities. DesignMap is always available. It is our most sincere hope that as many companies as possible—small and large—are able to weather these choppy waters.

  • Project-based Teams with User Research, UX and UI Design disciplines. 
  • Staff Augmentation, highly trained and experienced designers who work side-by-side integrated in your team.
  • Coaching and Advisement, the Partners have 20 years of industry experience. 
  • UX Training and Workshops, designed for the multi-discipline team we have content tailored to executives, product managers, designers, and engineers.

We're working with clients like Atlassian, Asana, and RingCentral with these services designed for business continuity.

—Audrey, Chuck, Greg, and Nathan

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