Monday, February 2, 2009

On-Site Insight: Part I

Stella is back and nearly fully recovered from her sojourn to the great city of Rochester. My suitcase is back in the garage for now, and all the laundry is clean. I'm in my quiet little home office again, and trying to actively reflect on what I learned during my visit. Other than I have a lot of work to do, and going back through my notes is going to yield a hefty little to-do/to-untangle/to-figure-out-if-we-can-really-do-it list.

And so StellaCommute is happy to present a new feature: On-Site Insight®!

My first On-Site Insight®: People in Real Offices (particularly mine) really like to meet a lot, but it's not always the best way to get stuff done. When I'm in my home office, I meet with them all the time, too, don't get me wrong. I phone into a few standing meetings a week, plus I run online meetings with various tools and whatnot, and I generally make myself available. Some days, I really am back to back with meetings.

But what I don't do is have to drag myself from conference room to office to campus and back to attend those meetings. I don't have to sit in an empty conference room by myself waiting for people to show up and make small talk and then get rolling 13 minutes after the hour. I don't have to wait while someone goes and makes copies of some document or some such. And if I do have to wait around, I can switch back to work while I'm waiting.

And it seems to me that the non-meeting aspects of going to meetings (getting there, waiting, materials distribution, small talk) are the things that really eat into your feeling of getting stuff done.

By contrast, let's examine the structure of online meetings. They are quick to fire up and the waiting time can be used efficiently: you call in and log in, and you're there. No need to find the right conference room because it's right at your desktop. And if the other people aren't in the meeting yet, just switch windows and keep churning through your in box.

They're easier to schedule: Again, because you don't have the X-factor of finding a place to have an online meeting, you can jump on the first available time for your participants, rather than having to figure out which conference room is big enough or small enough to be appropriate for your little gathering. And in a meeting heavy culture, sometimes the conference room is the hardest guy to get in the room.

You can meet back-to-back without running late: Do you need to have a weekly meeting with all your staff members? Block off three hours and do 20 minute audiences online back to back. Yes, you'll get phone ear, but you won't have that sinking feeling as you wait for one person to collect his papers and shuffle out and the next person to shuffle in and get her act together. You can ruthlessly move from meeting to meeting by disconnecting the person and waiting for the next person to call into the meeting.

Materials distribution doesn't require trees or time: The agenda? It's on screen in the online meeting software. Need to see a document that someone forgot to bring? Go fetch it off the network and show it online. Someone wants to show the team something and they have it bookmarked on their desktop? Switch who the presenter is and get it done. Then when the meeting is over, gather all the crap you looked at together and send it out in an email.

Getting to meetings takes valuable time: Depending on who you meet with it's a least a five minute walk, and can be a 20 minute drive-and-find-parking extravaganza on each side of the appointed meeting time. That's a waste. Really there just isn't any other way to put it.

So here's the Insight®: Organizations should use their virtual meeting tools as much as possible, even for people who are just a floor away from each other. Why?

1. It will save people time.
2. You will maximize your investment in those tools by getting lots of use out of them.
3. You will have better meetings in which more gets done.
4. People will feel less ill-used by a meeting-heavy culture.
5. Everyone will develop their online meeting skills, so when they really need to use those tools (pandemic flu, anyone?) they will be ready.
6. It levels the playing field between your Real Office workers and your shut-ins.

Okay, maybe only Stella cares about the last one, but I think those are six pretty good reasons to get on board.

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