TeamTV brings teams together with an always-on video channel FEATURE
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A TV channel for remote and office workers alike can help bridge the awkwardness gap.

Walking through portals to enter one physical meeting into another is a thing of science fiction for the moment, admits Cisco Emerge Engineering Lead Will Reed, but it's something his team is looking to make a reality.

The Emerge team works to create innovative technology that accelerates the future of work, so collaborative meeting tech is a project they want to get extra creative with.

TeamTV, always on

Enter TeamTV, the Emerge Team's always-on television channel to bring remote teammates into the office.

"It's having a way in which you can build rapport and connections with your team.""TeamTV is a distributed TV channel for groups," says Emerge engineering Lead Matt Norris, "It's having a way in which you can build rapport and connections with your team."

See also: Meet Cisco Spark Board

Large companies like Cisco have remote team members across the world, and the Emerge team has discovered the value in having a space to interact daily with teammates as if they were all in one office.

When you add TeamTV capabilities to Spark—Cisco's messaging system—TeamTV gives you a link that you can click into. From there, each team members' webcam will take up a section of the channel screen.

Webcams, naturally

If you think having a webcam constantly filming you might feel a little strange in the beginning, the Emerge team would agree with you.

"In the beginning it felt like taking my clothes off in front of somebody," says Emerge engineer Joshua Frattarola, "It's not natural then, it's very awkward to have the TV on all day. I'll play my guitars to relax and I thought would someone might judge me for that. After sitting through it, TeamTV became super natural. Just as working in an office with an open plan would be."

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Norris, who often works in Cisco Meraki's San Francisco offices, finds value in having relationship-building conversations in the time between meetings.

"Joshua lives in D.C. and it was cool to walk in with my backpack today, see him and say hey," says Norris, "He turned down his music, and we just started chatting about our kids—I would never schedule a meeting for us to talk about our children. But because I saw him on there, it was as natural as saying good morning."

Feature rich

The "team mode" version of TeamTV with all members on-screen is just one vision Emerge has for this collaborative channel.

There is also the opportunity for a "popcorn mode", where all members watch something communally across distances—like a company meeting or tech conference.

At the bottom of each TeamTV channel runs a ticker, where you can add any team-relevant information across the bottom, whether that be stock checkers or tech news feeds. Team members could also be able to share a particular link, video, or photo via the ticker.

TeamTV is also looking into incorporating some of the Emerge team's virtual assistant bot into its features. For example, facial recognition capabilities could integrate seamlessly into TeamTV. The screen's webcam could recognize who you are, your relevant email and Spark messenger ID.

"The idea is to bring that intelligence into TeamTV," says Norris, "You can approach the screen and take different actions—when you turn away, the screen will blur because it will know you're busy."

TeamTV is also incorporating physical movement identification via facial recognition. Emerge found that when people approach the TeamTV screen, a natural reaction that attendees have is to wave—so the team is looking to take the hand gesture and make it a signal.

"It could be built to notice that an attendee is waving, so TeamTV could automatically notify you to check in with that person," says Norris, "Or if another attendee is in another quadrant, you can automatically zoom into a specific quadrant by using your voice."

The future of portal meetings

If we have TeamTV now, the Emerge team feels the "TV" part might phase out in the next five to ten years.

"In the near future, I imagine there's not a TV at all," says Frattarola, "I imagine there will be more augmented reality, which is advancing pretty rapidly. And I hope that the experience in TeamTV—the blockers, this wall, will be gone. That it will be as simple as me stepping into a portal and looking over there into San Francisco, over there I see Richmond, over here San Jose."

Collaboration tech may soon go beyond the screens and right into physical experiences through virtual and augmented reality. And the Emerge team is sure that remote teamwork will need its collaboration channels for the future.

"I am a living experiment—I have worked remotely since 2004," says Frattarola, "And every six to eight weeks I would go into an office and have that physical face time, and it's always awkward. I walk in like, ‘Hey, person-who-I-work-with-but-don't-see.' I've left on TeamTV every single day for the last six months, and I would eventually go into the office and go up to Andy to shake his hand and it felt offensive. Like I'm offending you with some kind of formality. So I know that augmented reality will change that, the physical barrier won't be an issue."

To try out TeamTV for yourself, check out how to get started here

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Focus: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

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About Stephanie Chan

Stephanie Ellen Chan is the Editorial and Video Producer at Cisco. She has a passion for writing about the intersection of culture, media, art, and technology.