Video Conferencing and Trust

Milton discussed in some earlier posts the importance of smiling and eye contact in facilitating video mediated communication.  At the heart of these issues is the issue of building video trust.

The Research On Video Trust

The good news is that according to video trust studies, people using only video communications can achieve similar levels of trust as people working face-to-face (ftf). The bad news is that video still isn’t quite as good as being ftf.  In Bos et al’s  experiment, ftf groups of total strangers were able to bond almost instantly whereas video conference groups took several rounds of the cooperation game to develop the same level of cooperation. Audio-only groups also took longer to build trust and reached a slightly lower level of trust than video. The worst case was with text-based chat groups. None of those groups established enough trust to cooperate effectively.

A similar set of experiments (minus the audio-only test case) conducted by Rockmann and Northcraft focused on deception and came up with more or less the same results for trust formation among video conference groups and ftf groups.  In addition, they found that video had higher occurrences of lying and defection (actions benefiting only the self to the detriment of the group).  They hypothesize that this behavior was due, not to a lack of desire to cooperate, but rather a lack of knowledge of the other’s intentions, thus suggesting that trust can still be achieved if people are more deliberate in communicating their intentions when not working face to face.

The problem of trust formation seems to boil down to the loss of information–the less information you have the less able you are to decide if you can trust someone. In video there can be information loss of the same visual context, body language, posture, mutual gaze, facial expressions, even voice inflections like pitch and accents.  Researchers Gill and Gergle, take especial note of the effect of poor eye contact and how “the difficulty in establishing mutual gaze information resulted in more stilted and labored conversations, which were shorter overall, but due to difficulties in turn-taking resulted in longer turns, perhaps resembling serial monologues.”  As discussed in in an earlier blog the inability to make eye contact often gives off the impression that you’re not trustworthy.

Trusting Video Impressions

In spite of these quirks of technology ways people have found ways to adjust.  Gill and Gergle found that video conference groups simply used more explicit verbal assents and lots of positive emotion words to show willingness to cooperate. Another group of scientists, Rusmann et al, suggest providing a sort of work-style/personality profile about members of a team to help speed up the process of assessing trustworthiness. Professor Erin Meyers, in her Forbes article on global team management, advises that “[w]alking around or simply moving your arms” while speaking or presenting can improve the sound of the message.  This helps regain the “interpersonal or persuasive edge” that is often lost through the video conferencing medium.

Building trust is not easy with virtual teams spread across the globe and an increasingly mobile workforce that rarely braves the office.  But using video can speed up the process and make working online social.


Bos, N.,Gergle,D.,Olson,J., & Olson,G., 2002. Being there versus seeing there: Trust via video. Proceedings of CHI 2001, pp. 291–2.

Gill, A. and Gergle, D. R., 2008-05-22. The language of trust establishment in face-to-face and video-mediated communication. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Online . 2011-02-16 from

Rockmann, K.W. & Northcraft, G.B., 2008. To be or not to be trusted: The influence of media richness on defection and deception. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 107(2), pp. 106-122, DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2008.02.002.

Rusmann, E., van Bruggen, J., Sloep, P. & Koper, R., 2010. Fostering trust in virtual project teams:Towards a design framework grounded in a TrustWorthiness ANtecedents (TWAN) schema. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 68, pp. 834–850.