I have a product development department in Mexico, we collaborate mainly with Michigan and distance seems to be a problem as with all distributed teams.

Whenever I travel to Michigan, I end up solving all kinds of pending matters with people just by bumping into them in hallways, so I thought "if I can't go to the hallway, I'll have the hallway come to me", then I thought: I need permanent telepresence.

I envision having 1 TV at both places at a main hallway, and have it act like a window. The key thing here is: not having to set up conferences, just have a permanently open video stream.

My questions are: has anyone seen anything like this?, and if so, have you seen it actually work?, why yes or why not?; do you know any commercial and/or open-source solutions that works like this (permanent open video stream)?

Note: the question referred as duplicate is not. This is not a supervisory problem, this is a collaboration problem among distributed teams.

  • @JoeStrazzere well, at least facilitate the "walking up to someone" part – dukeofgaming Mar 11 '14 at 11:24
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    I'm with Joe's question on this - bumping into someone in the hallway is so different. If there were 2 parallel corridors with a TV sized window in it and two people walked past at the same time on opposite sides, it's still not the same as bumping into. Completely different dynamics. I think in theory it is a good idea but it is still something requiring people to be proactive (going up to the screen) rather than reactive which is what I think you are trying to achieve – Mike Mar 11 '14 at 11:28
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    Very related question – enderland Mar 11 '14 at 17:11
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    You should put the TV on some kind of robot that roams the corridors, this will make sure the "bumping into people" aspect will still be there.. and if it isn't a very good robot, it will bump into people a lot more often. – Joe Mar 11 '14 at 17:51
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    Hey duke, and welcome to The Workplace! I'm a bit confused by what you're asking here. Are you asking for effective ways to keep in touch with remote colleagues? Are you asking for hardware recommendations? What software to use for teleconferencing? If you could clarify specifically what you're looking for with an edit that brings it in lines with our help center, it would get better answers. Thanks in advance! – jmac Mar 13 '14 at 4:37

I work remotely with a lot of people who are in another country and my substitute for the bump into them in the hall is to use IM just to say hello and chat occasionally. If you chat casually, you will start to get some of those same types of things brought up informally. We find it is easier to do this chatting if you have met people in person whcih it appears you have done.


I've heard of people doing this; one guy mentioned having an always-on video conference for remote work, which seems to be the usual context for this kind of appliance. Finally found it: Virtual Camaraderie

His take on it - having a separate machine for the video conference - is what you're talking about.

[Edit: also Project Stargate]

I would make a few suggestions:

  1. Use a high-quality camera
  2. Consider using a 45-degree glass setup to allow the camera to look through the centre of the screen image, and correct some of the gaze alignment of video conferencing (everyone seems to be looking off to the side)
  3. Put it near a communal area, perhaps the water cooler if it's not too stereotyped
  4. Use decent speakers and microphones, there's nothing more annoying than an expensive setup with rubbish audio
  5. Add a telephone handset so you can take a conversation semi-private or deal with excessive noise at one end. Yes, like a prison visit room.
  6. Keep it away from quiet working areas - the different lunch schedules will make it noisy at different times.
  7. Use it as part of routine meetings; if you don't, it will stop working or be forgotten.
  8. Add either a closable door at each end or duplicate the setup in a different room for more private meetings.
  9. Put the screens at the same height at each end(!)
  10. Put clocks either side (or on the screen) if there's a time difference.
  11. Finally, give it a name; The Hatch, The Portal, The Wormhole, the Prison Visit Window, St Louis (meet me at), whatever, so people know how to talk about meeting there without awkwardness. 'Wait, show me that fax at the Hatch'

I guess the common thread is to make the interaction and usage as seamless and effortless as possible.

There also appears to be a wep app called sqwiggle for that, worth looking at?



First of all you have an entire category of telepresence robots meant for bumping into people. I have only met a single person who has ever used those seriously and - although he didn't say it explicitly - I think he believed it to be mostly a gimmick after trying it out. Using just a TV screen is even more passive than those robots and will - I assume thus - work even less well. Some day VR will probably develop to the point where robots like this might work great, but I fear we're not there yet.

What I would suggest is setting up a slightly more expensive teleconferencing room (not one of the ridiculously expensive ones, but better than just video calling on your desktop) and having pre-scheduled meetings once per fixed period with people who are likely to encounter relevant problems. Additionally have an easy way for other people to schedule meetings into pre chosen slots. Still, all of this depends on the company dynamics and structure and although this might work in one, it might not be right for yours.


We've tried that for a bit with a bunch of Ipads in common areas but it did not work well. It feels too unnatural and the audio is just not up to par.

Audio is actually one of the main problems. Audio in embedded devices is terrible, speaker phones are pretty bad too and in many cases you need to resort to headsets to get decent audio, especially if there are non-native speakers with strong accents involved.

A good "out loud" audio solution requires excellent microphones (ideally ceiling mounted arrays) with intelligent management software (beam former, echo canceler, speaker detection, etc) and it also requires careful room acoustical treatment of the room with proper absorption and acoustic room mode control.

Your best shot at this would be to have one dedicated room on each site. The rooms are always on. Dual screen setup in each room: one screen for seeing the people, one screen for sharing content. Fixed audio setup with good microphones and good speakers (do NOT use internal TV speakers or speakerphone speakers). Well designed room acoustics in each room.

Then create incentives for people to show up in there: all meetings are in this room. There is free lunch at the same time on both sites (time zones permitting), stand ups are in there, etc.

On the downside, this will cost you considerable money and effort to get it fully setup.


I have seen this done with Lifesize units, which are expensive as all get out but work very well. For the "always on" situation, it tended to work better with people that were in smaller groups and divided out into more separate work spaces - like one dev team that was half in Austin and half in New York used one. Attempts to use them in busy alternate areas didn't work - too much confusion, ambient noise, and distraction. We eventually put a couple in conference rooms where people could ask others to 'step in' via IM or other channel; that worked OK. If people needed to share slides or whatnot they'd do that out of band with Webex; the Lifesize was pure telepresence.

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