What do you do if – from one minute to the other – your UK participant can’t leave the country for your strategic leadership workshop in Vienna? Well, you search the internet for telepresence robots and make it happen anyway. At least if you are Masha Ibeschitz, CEO of Think Beyond as well as passionate „possible-maker“ for her customers. Here is what we at Think Beyond learned so far from working with telepresence robots in leadership trainings.

Origin of telepresence robots

As handy as they are in the current situation – say: pandemic and global distancing regulations – telepresence robots are not new at all. Until now, they have been majorly used in huge warehouse facilities to check the stock or the conditions in the rooms without the need to entering the halls. They’ve also found similar usage in production facilities. Now these virtual devices are about to enter more and more areas. Humanizing (see below) names on their website: virtual meetings, virtual consulting, virtual real estate inspection, visits in hospitals and health care facilities without entering the building as well as controlling of manufacturing processes.

Tablet on wheels

Yes, at first glance this kind of cute looking gadget looks like a tablet on wheels. But as it turns out, it has far more benefit to offer than that!

But first things first: As these robots are not that spread in public so far, it’s quite hard to find possibilities to buy or rent some. At the moment there seem to be two major vendors/producers on the European market with relatively quick availability: Beam aka Suitable Technologies (rental and purchase) and Humanizing (purchase only). As Humanizing offered the quickest customer service – meaning they even answered on a Saturday (!) gladly dealing with our super-urgent request – all experience described in the following is related to their product: The “Double 3” – a brand new product manufactured in Vienna. At the moment there are only about 150 of these robots out and about. Despite that Humanizing normally only offers purchase, our passionate back office managed to rent one of the robots for our pilot trainings. * virtual high-five *

Telepresence robots in leadership development

Well, we took the intended use of “virtual meetings” one step further and used the Double 3 in interactive leadership training sessions with up to 12 people whereof one participant or one trainer – if there were two – wasn’t able to be physically present. For some time now we where keen to get a feeling of how beneficial this way of working is. And thanks to very open, bold and flexible customers we were able to do first test runs. Spoiler alert: We have been positively surprised.

Here’s a list of what we liked in particular:

  • Extremely user-friendly: The set-up could not be easier for the virtual participant. You simply click a link and there you are: In the middle of the room, with all other participants, able to move, speak and see as you were physically present.
  • High technical standard: Both camera and audio microphone/speakers satisfied with high quality and very easy maintenance. All virtual testers where able to easily read the content of posters, screens and even post-its, could hear loud and clear and easy follow what was spoken in the room.
  • Good integration of virtual participants: In comparison to joining a physical training session via Skype, Zoom or similar services, the telepresence robot gives you as the virtual participant much more control about the own participation. You are not dependent on others who have to position laptops in a way that you can see presenter, flipchart or screen. You can move around as you like, take the “seat” you want and even freely join breakout sessions in another room or mingle with others during the coffee break.
  • Fun factor: And yes, it’s a lot of fun having a robot cruising through your workshop room! If it fits your company culture, this can be nice little twist.

But… Legitimate objections and what we would answer

But why not skip the investment and stick with participation via Skype, Zoom, etc?

As mentioned above, the telepresence robot improves the participation first and foremost for the virtual participants. Fun factor aside, for those being physically present the difference isn’t that big. But inclusion – a thing many companies are aiming for a good reason – is about creating an environment where everyone can speak up. And the telepresence robot takes that one step further than the mere virtual meeting tool displayed on a laptop would be able to.

But why not go all virtual and skip the hustle with mixed technologies?

Another very valid objection and yes, switching to virtual-only meetings – in training that’s often called webinar or masterclass – is also an option if the one or other isn’t able to join physically. But then, the fact that somepeople can join physically on a certain place is a thing not to neglect and the positive effects of “real-life” meetings something you might not want to miss. There’s this special energy in the room, the motivation you often can’t recreate with virtual-only encounters.

So to put it simple: The telepresence robot enables you to value the different situations and options of allpossible participants of a training or meeting.

Conclusion: Why and when to invest in telepresence robots for training purpose

Do we want you to go buy a telepresence robot right away? No, of course not. But is the gadget able to add value to training situations? We’d argue: Yes, it is. The hybrid world we live in today will last and opening your mind to creative ways to operate in this new world is an idea we strongly encourage.

So depending on your upcoming development measures, the telepresence robot might be more or less beneficial. For example: If you have only lecture-like leadership development measures ahead – meaning one person is talking, many are listening – you might not want to make the investment. Added value probably would be low compared to the cost. If, on the other hand, you plan to hold interactive workshops and seminars in which one to three participants aren’t able to join physically, we’d say this technology is worth a look.

And let’s dare to make an outlook to the future at this point: What if this technology could help reduce unnecessary travels? And therewith save both costs for companies as well as negative impact on the environment?

At Think Beyond we’ll keep experimenting with the robots as our conclusion is that telepresence robots are an interesting option for the current global situation as well as for some specific situations in the future. Like with any technical gadget you consider buying, you have to take a close look on the expected costs compared with possible added value and frequency of usage.

If you’d like to discuss on this fascinating topic further, please feel free to reach out at any time – we love to exchange thoughts with you! Until then: Do you already have experience with telepresence robots in leadership training? Write a message below, we’re keen to know!

At top management level, things can be different than they seem. Honest feedback is rare and expectations astoundingly high. Taking a closer look at WHO you are, WHAT’s holding you back, and above all, WHERE you want to be, produces vital clarity. Reflecting on what has happened creates new space for truly important matters and enables a fresh view of the road ahead. When reflection succeeds, it can guide like oxygen, keeping that radiant flame of yours brightly lit. And you will be able to achieve the impossible: Think beyond seemingly insurmountable obstacles – and glide over them with ease and move on to achieve your targets. Think beyond. Successful leadership requires deep reflection.
MASHA IBESCHITZ, Coach & Development Guide