Meetings — Let’s Mould People Around Technology

I attended a two-day conference last year on the topic of social business collaboration. It was a great conference with a mix of traditional presentations and small breakout ‘café’ discussions.

One of the discussions I attended was “When can technology effectively replace face-to-face meetings?”

The small group was animated about the topic and a number of people stated outright that it was never acceptable to replace face-to-face meetings. Obviously there are times, especially in global companies, where face-to-face just isn’t an option. However, at that point we were talking about meetings in general and where technology could be better than in-person.

The discussion progressed to anecdotal feedback from participants about unsuccessful meetings — both virtual and in-person. However, a surprising part of the discussion, for me, was when the group started mentioning ways their company had been enforcing rules and controls around ensuring people turned up to meetings, paid attention during them and weren’t doing other work while on web conferences.

The most extreme example involved a tool that took a photo of the user at regular intervals to show what their status was, i.e. sitting at their computer, away, on the phone, talking to someone, eating their lunch, etc.

I was surprised by the direction of conversation. We had all sat through a 20-minute presentation earlier that morning from a very inspiring technology expert from MIT, Federico Casalegno. One excellent point Federico had made during his presentation was that we should never mould people around our technology. Yet under an hour later, here we were talking about doing just that.

I don’t pretend to know a solution for the inefficiency, which is rife when it comes to meetings. I do know, however, that I won’t be championing any force tactics.

A great video, which illustrates the ineffective nature of conference calls, is called “A conference call in real life”. It’s a humorous look at what a conference call would be like if it were a face-to-face meeting. Enjoy.