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Gini Dietrich

Can Technology Replace In-Person Meetings?

By: Gini Dietrich | March 5, 2013 | 
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Can Technology Replace In-Person Meetings?During our Inside PR recording last week, Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I had a very lively conversation about the Yahoo! memo.

Joe and I are both business owners with employees. He has two offices – Toronto and Ottawa – and I have a completely virtual organization with people spread across the United States and Canada.

We talked about the idea the Yahoo! executive team has decided there can only be more collaboration if everyone is sitting in the same space together.

Of course, it makes things difficult when he has two offices of people who need to collaborate and I have no one in close proximity. We talked about how to provide a sense of togetherness and whether or not technology can replace the in-person meeting.

Can Technology Replace In-Person Meetings?

Joe shared a story of how his teenaged daughter comes home from school, dials up her friends on Skype, and they all keep a video session open while they do homework. He said sometimes it’s complete silene as they work, hearing only the shuffling of paper or keystrokes on a laptop, and other times they’ll ask questions or work on a problem together.

That’s it, I thought. That’s how we do it.

Right now I do all of my direct report meetings in person (if they live in Chicago) or via video Skype. We do our staff meetings on Google Hangouts.

For the rest of the week, though, we typically instant message or text one another if we’re working on something that requires more than one brain.

But this idea of keeping a video session open? I like it.

That said, I’m the first one to admit I need uninterrupted time every day to get massive amounts of work complete. This idea won’t work for me for a good percentage of the day.

But there are times it would be a lot easier if I had someone in the next office so I could pop in and say, “I’m stuck on this challenge for a client. Can you help?”

The Fake Water Cooler

The idea being, of course, it’s non-appointment time together, but it requires a certain amount of organization and willingness to work with some level of interruption.

I floated this past the team last week so I don’t know yet if anyone will try it or if it will stick.

But I do know technology has allowed us to create substitute in-person meetings, providing the opportunity to work with extremely talented people no matter where they live in the world.

Why not see if something like this can create the water cooler chit chat and replace the in-person meeting so many leaders say their organizations can’t live without?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

121 comments
Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

I was rereading "The New Positioning" by Jack trout and Steve Rivkin when i chanced upon this little gem. It's relevant to the Yahoo situation.

 

"Chances are that when a new CEO arrives, you're looking at a would be hero. Obviously, any piece of thinking that was around before he or she arrived is suspect."

 

"The New Positioning" was first published in 1996! Hmm.......

 

Best Wishes

Leon

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

I was rereading "The New Positioning" by Jack trout and Steve Rivkin when i chanced upon this little gem. It's relevant to the Yahoo situation.

 

"Chances are that when a new CEO arrives, you're looking at a would be hero. Obviously, any piece of thinking that was around before he or she arrived is suspect."

 

"The New Positioning" was first published in 1996! Hmm.......

 

Best Wishes

Leon

dbvickery
dbvickery

Face-to-face meetings are outstanding, but I appreciate tools like Google+ Hangouts and Skype for getting that face-to-face without costing thousands of dollars in travel expense. I also think that technology goes a long way to further enabling the mobile worker if you already have the culture and relationships to sustain that mobile worker.

 

Yahoo muffed that announcement terribly, and it used too broad-brush of an approach. If they are trying to save a sinking ship, I can understand getting more people in the office to re-establish a winning corporate culture. But some people are incredibly effective in mobile roles and should not be faced with ultimatums: come back in the office or find another job.

 

Of course, this is coming from a guy who has telecommuted since about 1998!

SeattleKG
SeattleKG

@scrappy_face @SpinSucks I think I love that idea and hate it all at the same time!

mssackstein
mssackstein

@profkrg @ginidietrich I'm sure they can, but I hope they don't :-)

Melanie Tolley Hall
Melanie Tolley Hall

I think it's reluctance to embrace the site and rely less on e-mail. People are still straddling both techn

Karen_C_Wilson
Karen_C_Wilson

My business partner lives across the world (okay, just the city) from me - it's taken me two hours (!!!) in rush hour traffic to get to her house on more than one occasion. We both have young children, so meeting in the middle or on either end isn't worth the time we'd lose travelling. We use GoToMeeting to have weekly phone calls where we touch base on projects and client work, Dropbox as our server, a Facebook group for various day-to-day communications, we've also instituted other cloud-based solutions to keep communication open. And we're constantly texting each other (thank you iMessage!!) or sending IMs. 

 

I know it's not realistic for every position in every organization, but for a knowledge-based organization like Yahoo? I can't understand this archaic decision. 

GrantEpstein
GrantEpstein

Very interesting idea.  Would certainly make informal communications much easier

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Melanie, I hear that a lot about Chatter. We have a couple of clients who say they have it, but it's not used effectively. Wonder why that is?

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

I love the idea of you and @belllindsay just having your Skype open, kind of like when you were a teenager and would fall asleep on the phone talking to your crush. So cute! 

nowever
nowever

@AmyVernon @ginidietrich I'll have my people Skype your people to answer that.

asifkhan83
asifkhan83

@ginidietrich nope don't think so. Unless I'm mistaken travel (& biz travel especially) has actually been increasing not decreasing over yrs

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is very interesting because I was a remote sales person for 5 years. Worked from home 3000 miles from my employer. But the org wasn't virtual. I would spend 4 separate weeks a year there. I noticed how it is easy to interrupt people often and be interrupted. 

 

That said we would do conference calls with clients around north america to discuss engineered products. Things went much smoother when the engineers were together in the same room that in separate locations.

 

So to me just depends on the organization and what they do for business. A lot of tools can replace meetings. And I think the right leadership can facilitate proper collaboration from a far. Maybe plan a block of time a few times a week where you need to stay available for skype or IM etc?

bdorman264
bdorman264

Open video session; it has merit. I would just have to remember it's on and not pick my nose or burp or make any trouser adjustments.......

 

I do have an office and when I need uninterrupted time I can pull my door shut. However, I'm usually one of the first ones in the office in the morning so I have a good hour to get whatever social stuff I'm going to do done...unless somebody comes in and sits down. I like to keep an open door, but sometimes it's not the best for productivity.

 

I guess you could have a 'virtual' door I suppose, right? 

 

Not that I'm a pit nicker, but I did find this in your post: He said sometimes it’s complete silene as they work...I know, it's kind of like having a booger in your nose and none of your friends will tell you. But I know you love me unconditionally and I can say stuff like that, right?

 

Have a great day.......:). 

TaraAgacayak
TaraAgacayak

%s %s %s And when we do have in-person meetings we incorporate %s.

scrappy_face
scrappy_face

@SeattleKG It's nice to be able to have Skype meetings, but... keeping it on could be a little weird. ;) @spinsucks

BurgessAdv
BurgessAdv

@medianortheast yeah, we thought so also! Hope you're having a great day!

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

@nowever @ginidietrich this is an auto-reply.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @HowieG Great points, Howie. I was also a remote officer for years- would only see a colleague every 6 weeks at the most. And this was- shlock horror!- back in the pre- smart phone days, so we would have to email or- get this!- PHONE our team mates! And that is one thing I notice now that I have an office- yes, there are all those opportunities for serendipitous work talk, but it is mostly casual chit chat. And perhaps that casual talk build relationships- I don't know, I am an introvert and have to script small talk or else I bring up zombies way too frequently- but I tend to see it as endless disruptions. 

 

Thing is, where are the metrics for how much impact these face to face meetings have? Because when I think of these types of corporate meetings, I think of most people fiddling on their phones or laptops, flipping through handouts, or just staring off in to space. It may make the presenter feel better to have bums in seats, but I dare say most of those bodies are actually at rest. 

MediaNortheast
MediaNortheast

@BurgessAdv Funny how the open minded youth of today can give us such great ideas

nowever
nowever

@AmyVernon @ginidietrich My car tweets for me also.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

 @RebeccaTodd  @HowieG Been there Rebecca.. how many memos and meeting recaps are emailed to the group, b/c no one remembers what was discussed? And how rare for something to actually get decided, get done? Sure it can happen just the same at a 'virtual' meeting but that's kinda the point - being live (or a zombie.. heh) in person doesn't guarantee this teamwork or magically capture idea lightning in a bottle. Mileage will always vary. FWIW.

giesencreative
giesencreative

"I am an introvert and have to script small talk or else I bring up zombies way too frequently."

 

Best. quote. ever.

TaraAgacayak
TaraAgacayak

@ginidietrich We put mtg notes into Basecamp, use smartphones to snap photos of mtg documents, Google docs for ongoing collaboration...

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @giesencreative Honestly. On a recent sales trip I tried to engage a cashier on how microwaves create zombie food...she just stared as if I had a second head. 

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