ABSTRACT In a globalized world where companies need to overcome physical distances in order to interact with business partners operating in different countries

In a globalized world where companies need to overcome physical distances in order to interact with business partners operating in different countries, managers acknowledge that both design characteristics and cultural patterns play a critical role in the choice of the type of meeting to conduct. Research in this area suggests face-to-face and virtual meetings produce different outcomes and that cultural identities affect communication. The present research proposal aims to examine how much Chinese and US cultural identities affect the perceived effectiveness of video-conferencing and face-to-face meetings. A 51-item questionnaire will be carried out among Chinese and US firms and an independent t-test will be conducted afterward to check for the signif-icance of the findings. Based on the theoretical background presented, it is assumed that Chinese companies will perceive face-to-face meetings as more effective, while US firms will prefer video-conferencing interactions.
The use of computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS) has been increasing significantly in recent years (Denstadli & Gripsrud, 2010 cited in Denstadli, Julsru & Hjorthol, 2012) and adopting virtual communication is becoming part of every busi-ness’ daily activities. This phenomenon has raised interest in the meeting science, too: although historically meetings used to take place face-to-face in a shared physical space, the use of virtual meetings has grown at 80% according to the Travel Manage-ment Institute. The interplay of virtual and face-to-face communication plays a key role for international companies that have to communicate with business partners all over the world and which often rely on virtual tools during meetings in order to over-come geographic distances and to save costs (Arnfalk ; Kogg, 2003). As a conse-quence, it has become relevant for managers to understand how these two opposing de-sign characteristics are perceived, in order to maximize the effectiveness of their busi-ness interactions.
A second critical element to consider when evaluating how to communicate with busi-ness partners is related to the interactants’ cultural patterns. Differences among cul-tures have a significant impact on business outcomes, as a large number of authors (Martinsons and Westwood, 1997; Bilbow, 1995; Ping and Grimshaw, 1992; Allison, 1989) claim. These differences are particularly evident when Western and Eastern civ-ilizations are compared: While Westerners are generally defined as ‘impersonal’, ‘in-dividualistic’ and ‘goal-oriented’, Eastern people tend to be more willing to build communities, creating strong relationships and are defined as belonging to a ‘high-context culture’ (Bilbow, 1995; Ping & Grimshaw, 1992; Martinsons & Westwood, 1997). The overall aim of the present research proposal is to investigate how much cultural identities affect the perceived effectiveness of two different design character-istics of meetings, i.e. video-conferencing and face-to-face meetings. A comparison between US and Chinese companies is considered particularly significant for the pre-sent research proposal, belonging US and China to the largest GDP contributors in the world and being China one of the largest US business partners. Moreover, a focus on knowledge-intensive firms (KFIs) is considered relevant because interactions and per-sonal relationships are key elements within KFIs (Swart & Kinnie, 2003) and meetings play therefore a major role in such organisations. The research design used to investi-gate how much US and Chinese cultures affect the perceived effectiveness of video-conferencing and face-to-face meetings is survey research.
In the next section, a theoretical background about previous research conducted on face-to-face and virtual meetings and regarding the contrast between US and Chinese cultural patterns is provided. Next, after presenting the research question and the two hypotheses being tested, choice and justification of the methodology used will be de-scribed. Finally, the expected results of the present research proposal and the possible limitations are discussed.
Virtual Meetings and Video-Conferencing Systems
Because of the growing need of companies to interact quickly and effectively with business partners operating all over the world, computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS) are becoming an integral part of every modern organisations’ daily activities and are playing an effective role in business meetings, as well. Warkentin, Sayeed and Hightower (1997) define CMCS as systems that support communication-related activities within teams. Computer-mediated communication systems are used as tools to improve the effectiveness of a meeting performance, i.e. to “create compa-rable levels of communication speed and effectiveness as those achieved at traditional meetings” (Warkentin, Sayeed ; Hightower, 1997, p. 977). The authors Andrev, Salmon and Plisking (2010) argue that more and more companies are nowadays using tools such as audio thoroughconferencing and teleconferencing for communication purposes in the working environment and they define the latter as situations in which more participants interact in real-time using sound and live pictures. The reasons why this phenomenon has become very common are explained by the researchers Arnfalk and Kogg (2003), who point out that virtual meetings can have both a positive finan-cial impact, i.e. the costs of potential business travels are avoided, and positive envi-ronmental effects. Furthermore, companies can benefit from time savings and can eas-ily access virtual meetings through a great variety of tools, e.g. telephones, laptops, tablets (Denstadli, Julsrud, Hjortol 2012, p. 26).
Synchronous Video Conferencing (VC) systems, in particular, are nowadays replacing face-to-face meetings. Through audio and video tools, in fact, VC provides the oppor-tunity to communicate in real-time with business partners and can be therefore consid-ered as an “approximation” of face-to-face meetings (Guo, d’Ambra, Turner & Zhang 2009). Between 1991 and 2006, VC has increased fivefold (Denstadli & Gripsrud, 2010 cited in Denstadli, Julsru & Hjorthol, 2012) and, while in the past VC platforms could be afforded only by large companies, newly developed technologies have made VC cheaper and simpler, and therefore feasible for small- and medium-sized compa-nies, too (Denstadli, Julsrud & Hjortol 2012, p. 26).
Impact of virtual and face-to-face interactions
The interest towards computer-mediated communication systems among firms has been lately increasing, but this phenomenon was also investigated in depth in the past years (Kiesler, Siegler & McGuire, 1984; Warkentin, Sayeed & Hightower 1997; Hagmann & Hightower 1995; Hightower & Sayeed 1995).
Research in this area shows that there is a significant difference between face-to-face and computer-mediated communication: A study conducted by Hightower and Sayeed (1995) suggests that virtual groups tend to communicate less effectively than face-to-face teams: CMCS, in fact, make the interactions more difficult because of the lack of coordination and difficulty in mutual understanding. Hiltz, Johnson and Turoff (1986 $) explain also that computer-mediated communication is neither personal nor socio-emotional and the lack of these aspects leads to the alteration of the users’ perceptions in the communication context. Computer-mediated communication has also different outcomes if compared to face-to-face interactions in terms of communication efficien-cy, participation, decision making, and interpersonal behaviour (Kiesler ; McGuire 1984, p.1128). A fundamental aspect that characterizes face-to-face communication and that is more difficult to be achieved during CMCS interactions is, for instance, the use of para-verbal (tone, volume, the inflection of the voice) and non-verbal (body language, eye movement) elements (Warkentin at al., 1997 p. 978). Straus and McGrath (1994) argue that computer-mediated technologies limit the perception of in-dividual differences and the absence of the physical presence of others affects also group performance and satisfaction. However, while some CMCS prevent the use of such communication elements, others enable to integrate both of them. For instance, while e-mail or telephone communication systems are fast but cannot provide the vis-ual or aural feedback of face-to-face communication (Kiesler, Siegel ; McGuire 1984), the researchers Warkentin, Sayeed and Hightower (1997) point out that syn-chronous video-conferencing enables the use of para-verbal, as well as non-verbal el-ements. Nevertheless, Driskell, Radtke and Salas (2003) investigated the effects of technological mediation on team performance and found out that “distance matters in team interaction” (p.297). Furthermore, even though modern VC systems can over-come most of the problems that might arise while using CMCS, not sharing the same special location might affect the effectiveness of the meeting in a negative way, since physical closeness, which cannot be achieved through virtual meetings, contributes to increasing the feeling of similarity, understanding, and to developing a sense of con-nection (Burgoon, M. Burgoon, Broneck, Alvaro ;. Nunamaker, 2002). Sellen (1995) conducted a research about “remote conversations”, with a focus on VC systems, and stressed that not sharing the same physical space has several implications: VC interac-tions, for instance, tend to have less simultaneous speech (Rutter, Stephenson, ; Dew-ey, 1981; Williams, 1978 cited in Sellen 1995, p. 407) and less eye contact, causing, therefore, psychological distance and depersonalisation (Sellen, 1995). Another study conducted by Guo, d’Ambra, Turner and Zhang (2009) found that team mental models for further interactions are easier to be built during face-to-face conversation rather than with CMCS (p. 12).
China and US: culture matters
Video-conferencing systems enable companies to overcome geographical distances and to interact through audio and video tools. Virtual teams operating in different countries should, however, take into consideration that opposing design characteristics of meetings could be perceived differently according to different business etiquettes related to a country and its culture. The influence of national cultures on management has always been a topic of interest for organisation science and the impact of culture on organisational practices has been investigated, among others, by the researcher Geert Hofstede (1983), who carried out a research into national cultures between 1967 and 1978. He found out that cultures develop different value systems and he focused on four main variables: power distance, uncertainty, individualism and masculinity (Hofstede, 1983).
Differences related to cultural identities between Western and Eastern countries, in particular, are a key topic that researchers have been focusing on. Moreover, it has be-come critically important for firms to understand that contrasting values characteris-ing their business partners might affect their business relationships. The dominance of countries such as US and China in the business world is rising rapidly: according to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Database, they are the first and the second country classified as the world’s largest contributors on GDP. Furthermore, according to the latest trends, China belongs to the largest trade partner of the United States. It goes without saying that interactions between the two countries take place daily, and it has therefore become highly relevant for managers to know how and how much cultural patterns might affect business relationships outcomes. Martinsons and Westwood (1997), for instance, suggest that Western and Chinese cultural identities have led to different organisational systems and communication patterns (p. 216). As the authors claim, Chinese, as well as Korean and Japanese cultures, are deeply influenced by Confucian theories (Oh, 1991; Westwood, 1992; Whitley, 1992 cited in Martinsons & Westwood, 1997): Chinese ethics, for example, are based largely on the relationship between individuals (p. 216). On the other hand, instead, Western countries tend to be more private property-oriented and focused on individual rights (Martinsons & West-wood, 1997). Furthermore, as Bilbow (1995) claims, Chinese people are more willing to work in collective environments in comparison with Westerners (p. 45). The re-searchers Ping and Grimshaw (1992) point out that in China every person operating within an organisation plays a role as a member of a family, not as an individual. Hence, technology might be perceived as a threat because it might undermine the company’s stability and harmony and because it may build unequal relationships among the people being part of it (Ping ; Grimshaw 1992, p. 292). On the other hand, Western organisations are described as much more goal-oriented and therefore “im-personal”: in this context, the individual takes second place in favour of the organisa-tion’s needs and, therefore, personal relationships play only a marginal role (Martin-sons & Westwood, 1997).
As regards meetings, Martinsons and Westwood claim that Chinese business meetings can be considered as “rituals” (p. 222), while Allison (1989) stresses that “the syntac-tic sentence is not central to Chinese language” (p.6). VC might, therefore, be per-ceived as a limited tool within Chinese business environments since computers cannot provide the same richness of meaning that face-to-face conversations can convey. Fur-thermore, social context and dynamic communication elements are partially lost if in-teractants don’t share the same physical space, and the (Martinsons ; Westwood 1997, p.220), might be affected negatively by lower-context forms of communication such as video-conferencing. On the other hand, Westerners tend to prefer ‘low-context’ forms of communication (Hall,1976 cited in Martinsons ; Westwood, 1997). As a consequence, a meeting that might be perceived as ‘effective’ by a US company might not be considered the same by a Chinese one. But what are the aspects to take into considerations in order to define a meeting ‘effective’? Several authors such as Dunsing (1977), Doyle and Straus (1976) and Renton (1980) discuss the importance of the role played by the meeting leader. Others focus on the agenda development and structuring to measure meeting effectiveness (Doyle ; Straus, 1976) and on the im-portance of facilitating full participation for all group members (Stasser ; Titus, 1985; Tropman, 1980). Finally, issues concerning ‘temporal integrity’ (Tropman, 1980) and creating a climate that enables all participants to communicate openly and expressing their opinions (Nemeth ; Staw, 1989) have also to be considered when rat-ing meeting effectiveness.
Research problem and research question
The impact of the use of CMCS within firms and, more specifically, the differences between VC and face-to-face communication and the challenges that might arise due to the use of these contrasting interaction methods, have been analysed from various contexts and perspectives by international researchers. Furthermore, the increased globalisation of organisations has raised the attention of managers towards the impact that Western and Eastern cultural identities can have on a business. However, little re-search has been conducted on the impact that these cultural values might have on the perceived effectiveness of a meeting and, in particular, on the influence of two oppos-ing design characteristics: video-conferencing and face-to-face meetings.
The aim of this research proposal is to investigate how much Western and Eastern cul-tural identities, with a focus on US and Chinese companies, affect the perceived effec-tiveness of VC and face-to-face meeting interactions. Since the current literature sug-gests that cultures have a significant impact on organisational patterns and communi-cation structures, there are grounds for expecting that the two cultures will have an impact on the effectiveness perceived after a meeting, considering meeting effective-ness as dependent variable and cultural identities and design characteristics, i.e. video-conferencing and face-to-face meetings, as independent variables. The aim of the pre-sent research proposal is therefore to test the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1 US companies will perceive video-conferencing meetings as more effec-tive
Being Western culture defined as ‘low-context’, ‘impersonal’ and ‘goal-oriented’, I might expect that US companies will rate VC meetings with a higher level of effec-tiveness.
Hypothesis 2 Chinese companies will perceive face-to-face meetings as more effec-tive
On the other hand, since the Chines culture has been described by the literature as fo-cused on relationship-building and since Chinese people devote great attention towards non-verbal cues and ‘high-context’ elements, face-to-face meetings are expected to be perceived as more effective.
Research design
In order to determine how much cultural identities affect the perceived effectiveness of a VC and a face-to-face meeting, a quantitative study employing survey research and, more specifically, online-survey research, is considered the most appropriated method to adopt. The reasons for choosing survey research are as follows. Survey re-search has generally a small cost per respondent if compared to most of the other pri-mary data collection methods and the number of potential responses is high. Conduct-ing survey research will enable to generalize the results because it is useful to describe the characteristics of a large population. Another advantage related to this research method is that it enables to gather a large amount of information in a relatively short period of time.
Sampling method and sample size
The samples being selected for the present research proposal would be US and Chinese knowledge-intensive firms (KIFs), such as consultancy companies, law and accounting firms and public relations agencies. In knowledge-intensive firms, in fact, people and the interactions between them are considered the most valuable capital. Meetings play a major role for KIFs because these companies gain competitive advantage from both human and social capital, the latter being reinforced through organisational relation-ships (Swart ; Kinnie, 2003). Since sharing knowledge becomes a critical element to determine KIFs’ performance, it is believed that such a population would be particu-larly adequate for the purpose of the present research proposal. In order to attract par-ticipants from both US and Chinese KIFs to increase the generalizability of responses, a random sampling method would be the most appropriate. Respondents for a survey research will be contacted through a diversity of recruiting methods such as email ser-vices, telephone calls, and online interest groups. Multiple recruiting methods would facilitate the participation of a larger number of companies and could help obtain dif-ferent types of KIFs to respond.
Leach, Rogelberg, Warr and Burnfield (2009) conducted two different studies in order to investigate the perceived effectiveness of meetings according to different design characteristics in the USA, UK and Australia. The respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of a typical meeting in terms of goal achievement and the total amount of people recruited for each study was respectively 958 and 292. The data collection methods used by the researchers as well as the purpose of the research are the same as the ones implemented for the present research proposal, therefore it would be appro-priate to consider the same sample size. Being two the studies conducted by Leach, Rogelberg, Warr and Burnfield, an average of the two sample sizes has been calculat-ed. Therefore, a sufficient sample size for this research proposal has been estimated to be of 625 US and 625 Chinese people working for KFIs companies.
Data collection and data analysis methods
The most appropriate data collection method used for the present research proposal would be an online questionnaire, i.e. a likert-scale questionnaire, in which the re-spondents will be asked to rate the effectiveness of both a VC meeting and a face-to-face meeting. The questionnaire will also include demographic questions to validate the research. The main advantage of choosing a likert-scale questionnaire is that likert-scale questions are easily understandable and easy to analyse. Another aspect to con-sider is that it would be a time-saving method for respondents if compared to other da-ta collection methods such as interviews.
The questionnaire that will be carried out is an adaptation of the 51-item questionnaire used by the researchers Nixon and Littlepage (1992), who examined the relationship between meeting procedures and perceived meeting effectiveness. In their research, meeting effectiveness is measured considering two main items, i.e. goal attainment and decision satisfaction, and the questionnaire contains 20 items that describe meet-ing procedures. Nixon and Littlepage’s questionnaire appears to be particularly suita-ble for investigating the phenomenon discussed in the present research proposal be-cause it is covering all critical aspects that should be addressed when rating the effec-tiveness of a meeting. Among the items covered in the questionnaire, Nixon and Lit-tlepage include for instance the following statements:
• All members participate
• A variety of options are explored before the group makes its final decision
• Meetings follow the agenda
• You have access to the necessary and pertinent information and/or materials needed to prepare for the meeting
• The meeting leader remains impartial rather than speaking out and expressing his/her views
• The meeting is
• a more satisfying experience than a frustrating one
• The goals of the meeting are clear and well-defined
• Meeting decisions are acted upon in a timely and efficient manner
• The meetings begin/end on time
Based on Nixon and Littlepage’s questionnaire, the respondents of the present research proposal will be asked to evaluate the effectiveness of both a face-to-face and a video-conferencing meeting they took part in on a five-point scale, ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. Subjects will be assured that responses will be anony-mous and that participation voluntary. The survey questionnaire, which will be con-ducted in English, will consist of two sections: in the first section, the respondents will be asked to indicate gender, nationality and to specify how long they have been em-ployed in the company; in the second section, instead, they will be asked to rate the ef-fectiveness of the meetings according to the criteria mentioned above.
To assess the perceived meeting effectiveness related to both design characteristics, data will be analysed in two different subgroups: perceived effectiveness of face-to-face meetings and perceived effectiveness of VC meetings. The scores of US and Chi-nese companies will be determined by summing the ratings for each item across the individuals within the given countries and then calculating the means of the scores. In order to test the hypotheses, an independent-samples t-test will be carried out to check for the significance of differences between cultural identity and perceived meeting ef-fectiveness with respect to the two different design characteristics. The reason why an independent-samples t-test would be considered appropriate is that the data will be ob-tained considering two different groups, i.e. Chinese and US KIFs, which are not relat-ed to each other and will help determine whether there is a statistically significant dif-ference between each group’s mean.
Timetable and budget
It is estimated that the time needed to collect a sufficient amount of responses will be roughly three to four months, while it is expected that additional three months will be necessary in order to analyse the data and to write up the results of the present research proposal. The participation in the questionnaire will be voluntary, therefore a compen-sation for the respondents is not taken into consideration. Furthermore, since the ques-tionnaire will be implemented online, there will be no need to travel to collect data, re-sulting in a very limited budget needed.
Expected results
The focus of the present research proposal is to determine how much US and Chinese culture identities affect the perceived effectiveness of meetings characterized by two different design characteristics. More specifically, the study aims to investigate whether the perception of face-to-face and video-conferencing meetings differ accord-ing to the above mentioned cultural patterns. Research in these area shows that there is a significant difference between face-to-face and computer-mediated communication: the former, for instance, is generally perceived as more effective because it facilitates mutual understanding and coordination (Hightower ; Sayeed, 1995). Furthermore, not sharing the same physical space can have negative consequences because mental mod-els are difficult to build (Burgoon, M. Burgoon, Broneck, Alvaro ; Nunamaker, 2002; Sellen, 1995). Previous research suggests also that Western and Eastern countries de-veloped different organisational identities and communication patterns, which have a significant impact on companies. Bilbow (1995), Ping and Grimshaw (1992) and Mar-tinsons and Westwood (1997) describe Western people as more individualistic and goal-oriented, while Eastern communities focus much more on building communities and creating long-lasting relationships.
Based on the theoretical background presented in the first section of the present re-search proposal, it is expected that US companies will perceive video-conferencing as more effective if compared to Chinese firms because VC is a much more ‘impersonal’ and ‘low-context’ way of conducting meetings and reflects, therefore, Westerns cul-tural patterns. On the other hand, since this CMCS limit the interactions that would be available during face-to-face meetings, it might be assumed that Chinese companies would consider face-to-face interactions as more effective.
Risks and limitations
One of the limitations of the present research proposal regards the fact that, in order to make robust claims, a large number of samples is necessary and collecting them might be time-consuming and demanding. Finding 625 US 625 Chinese respondents willing to take part in the survey research might be challenging. Second, it is important to consider that precise distinctions among the two cultures might be difficult to detect. As Fiss and Hirsch (2005) report, one of the negative outcomes of globalisation is that cultural identities are fading, and an undifferentiated, homogenized world culture is emerging (p. 44). While in the past distinctions between Western and Eastern coun-tries in terms of cultural patterns were much more evident, nowadays it could be in-stead difficult to detect clear-cut differences between US and Chinese cultures. A third limitation is related to the research respondents’ background: although the first part of the questionnaire will contain questions related to nationality and length of employ-ment in the respective company, many organizations consist nowadays of members from different countries, forming global teams. It might be therefore difficult to draw conclusions based on well-defined US and Chinese cultural identities, because the background influencing the respondents of the study might consist of a “hybrid” form, characterized by both Western and Eastern cultural patterns.