Posts Tagged meetings

Business travel is a necessary, but increasingly surmountable evil

The folks at FlyMiwok wrote an interesting blog post the other day entitled Why Business Travel will not go away that spoke to the pressure that business travel is under. While I agree with the author that business travel is unlikely to become extinct any time soon, I can say with certainty that I am not traveling on business as frequently as I once did, and probably never will.

It wasn’t the raw data in the post that caught my attention however, it was the subjective information presented in three out of four points the author used to make the case.  To wit:

Personal communication tools are great in one-to-one situations and will yield quite some savings there. The same cannot be said for meetings where a dozen or more people from 6 different locations attend.

I disagree.  I was in two very necessary and successful meetings today where participants in China, Colorado, Texas, New York and Israel gathered and very effectively shared content, discussed problems, agreed on solutions and resolved critical business issues.  Telepresence, HD video conferencing and desktop video systems all worked together to connect the remote members of the team in a satisfactory manner.

In this economy, companies are cutting cost as fast as they can. One measure very high on everyone’s list: Cut Office cost. Telecommuting has been encouraged, offices have been downsized. If you watch Cisco’s TelePresence ads, you typically see a conference between people in two offices. However, chances are people are not just in two offices. There’s always someone participating from home or a hotel room, while another person is in an airport with no Wi-Fi access, but lots of background noise instead. In situations like these, audio conferences via telephone is the lowest common denominator.

Here the author seems to suggest that while a person might find a meeting important enough to get up before dawn, schlep to the airport, submit herself to the indignity of security screening, wedge her body into an uncomfortably small seat in a noisy contraption for a ride across several time zones, and then sleep in a strange bed and eat horrible hotel food until it’s time to repeat the previous ordeal, when a similarly important meeting is scheduled the same person can’t be bothered to find a quiet spot with a video connection.  Bzzzzt.

Video conferencing technology has become much easier to use, even while traveling, but the quality can be quite low. Have you ever hosted a teleconference in the U.S, where people from different continents attended at the same time? Some from home, some from the office, some while they were traveling? Even with today’s technology, the results are typically nothing to write home about.

First, while the vagaries of Internet transport still present challenges, I can say from experience that the majority of multipoint meetings that I participate in deliver a perfectly acceptable experience.  Secondly, if the context of the meeting demands special arrangements such as high quality audio, HD video, shared access to media or concierge service, it’s much easier to arrange these details than to demand a group submit to the above mentioned inconveniences.

To be clear, I agree with the author’s last point, that certain things can only be achieved by personally meeting your customers.  And while face to face meetings are likely to remain an important part of the business landscape, I submit that the options available for remote participation are clearly sufficient to permit re-engineering of many horribly inefficient meeting scenarios today.

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Second Life and team effectiveness

The folks at Leading Virtually are getting ready to release the findings of some primary research they did on group effectiveness, and the preliminary results are discussed in a post from last week.

The research had two main parts.  One evaluated the impact of critical and supportive communication on the effectiveness of group problem solving, and the other sought to determine if virtual world technology, such as Second Life, would impact the tone of communication.

Not surprisingly, groups that experienced higher levels of critical commentary, that is to say more disagreements with team members’ ideas, did not perform as well as the groups where exchanges were generally supportive.  The inference here is that teams that can adjust their methods of communication to be less overtly critical can effectively raise their collaborative quotient.

This works because less confrontation and disagreement increases the cohesiveness of the team, ultimately improving their ability to reach consensus.

As far as the impact of Second Life at influencing the tone of communication, well:

Suffice it to say that Second Life was not associated with higher incidence of supportive communication or lower incidence of critical communication relative to instant messaging.

This is interesting to me.  I would have thought that the generally impersonal nature of instant messaging would result in more terse and direct communication that would skip the niceties and tend towards the critical, a manifestation of keyboard courage, if you will.

Still, I don’t care how well rendered the avatars in Second Life are, they give the impression of cartoons.  I find it hard to take a business meeting seriously when I’m sitting across the table, not from Barb and Simon from engineering and accounting, but from characters who favor Lara Croft and the Juggernaut.

But I mean that in the most positive way.

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