7 Reasons Why I Now Have More Web-Based Than Face-To-Face Meetings

How Zoom is changing academic work.

February 25, 2019

I’ve crossed over.  2019 was the year where the majority of my meetings transitioned from face-to-face to online.

To be sure, I still participate in lots of face-to-face meetings.  There is no substitute for some in-person conversations.  And not everyone wants to meet on their computers with webcams and microphones.

Still, I think that the majority web meeting is a milestone to both mark and try to understand.  This is particularly true in the context of someone who is not working remotely. (Remote workers by definition have almost all their meetings online).

The fact that the majority of my meetings are web-based is even more striking, considering that I work at a traditional residential liberal arts college.

I’ll try to enumerate the reasons why the majority of my meetings are web-based.  As you read through this list, please give some thought to your balance of in-person and online discussions.

Reason #1 - Zoom:

Zoom is a game changer.  Zoom is robust, stable, and easy to use.  Unlike other web meeting platforms, I seldom run into issues with Zoom where a participant can’t get their microphone or webcam working.  Zoom meetings just work. The video looks great.  The VOIP is clear.

I’d be curious if your experience with Zoom is as positive as mine has been?  Do you have a sense of how Zoom compares to other web meeting platforms?

Reason #2 - Dogfooding (Online Education):

My institution has moved from Adobe Connect to Zoom for our synchronous online teaching.  From everything that I hear, the students and faculty are much happier with Zoom.  So are the people who run and support the synchronous online classes.

Synchronous online classes, faculty office hours, and student team group work are all critical elements of a quality online learning experience.  It is the mix of asynchronous, synchronous and face-to-face learning that help define how engaging, immersive, rigorous, and intimate an online program feels to students and professors.

If a school is going to teach online, then the people who work at the school should use (wherever possible) the same tools and platforms as the students and faculty. The more one uses a platform the better one understands its strengths and limitations.  The more online meetings you hold, the better your online classes will be.  If learning can be distributed and mediated by digital platforms, so can our work.

Reason #3  - Efficiency:

Higher ed work involves lots of meetings.  This is particularly true for learning professionals, alternative academics, and other non-faculty educators.  Almost everything that we do is done in collaboration.  Our work involves partnering with faculty and staff to advance the mission of the institution.  So that means lots of meetings.

The problem is that meetings carry with them a high degree of friction.  We spend considerable time traveling from meeting to meeting.  Most higher ed people work on campuses.  Campuses have lots of buildings.  Many institutions have multiple campuses.  Web meetings eliminate travel time.

I’ve also found that web meetings tend to start and end on time.  There is less chit chat at the beginning of a meeting.  The social norms of web meetings seem to allow folks to get down to business.

Reason #4 - Status Dynamics:

Sociologists love to observe meeting dynamics.  How we behave during meetings both signals and reinforces status hierarchies.  The most senior person in the room will usually sit at the head of the table.  She will speak the most.  She will interrupt others.  Heads will nod when she talks.  If she is late, the meeting will not start until she arrives.  The quietest people in the room will usually be those who are most junior, and most vulnerable.

The problem, of course, is that good ideas and seniority do not correlate very highly.  The people with the best ideas may be lower in the status (or actual) hierarchy.

Web meetings, if skillfully moderated, can more easily subvert status hierarchies than face-to-face gatherings.  In a web meeting, there is no head of the table.  Everyone in a web meeting has access to the chat features.  Senior people in web meetings seem to feel less need to demonstrate their authority.  More junior folks seem to feel more empowered to speak up.

Reason #5 - Cross-Organizational Collaborations:

I have this hypothesis that academic work is more cross-organizational than other occupations. That if you work for a college or university that you are more likely to have close contact with peers from other organizations than if you worked for a company.

The reasons that we spend so much time collaborating with people outside of our institutions vary.  For academics, your professional loyalty and connections are to your discipline.  For those of us on the alt-ac / staff side, we spend lots of time with our peers from other institutions as sounding boards and sources of knowledge.  We are also increasingly involved in deep collaborations with companies, particularly if any of your work depends on using technology platforms or outsourced services.

The more you collaborate with people outside of your institution, the more you will depend on web meeting platforms.  Web meetings make it possible to share and talk about documents.  The video portion of web meetings enables non-verbal communication.  There is an emotional resonance and an intimacy to a web meeting that is absent on a conference call.

Reason #6 - Professional Travel:

How many days a year are you off campus for university related travel? Now add your travel days to everyone else’s travel days.  Scheduling meetings can often be an exercise in frustration, as it is hard to find a day whenever everyone will be together on campus.

Web meetings enable the work to go on, even if everyone is not in the same place.  I’m amazed at the number of web meetings that I have where one person is in transit, at an airport gate, or in their conference hotel room.  And you know what?  It turns out that it doesn’t matter where the participants are.  As long as there is bandwidth, the meeting can go on.

Reason #7:  Remote Working, Weather, Illness, and Kids:

If anyone on your team works remotely, then you will end up having lots of web meetings.  Quality web meeting platforms like Zoom radically reduce whatever downsides that may be associated with telecommuting.  Remote workers can easily have quick and information-rich exchanges with colleagues.  A remote colleague on the other side of a web meeting does not feel that far away.  I’d go so far to say that tools like Zoom will cause employers - including universities - to take a hard look at the advantages of having full or part-time remote workers.

Even for those who don’t work remotely, there are days when you can’t come to campus.  Snowstorms happen. Kids get sick.  The furnace repair person can only come at 2:00 pm.  All of us work wherever we have our laptops.  The line between our office and our homes has mostly been erased.  Web meetings enable us to be productive, collaborative, and present - even if we can’t make it to campus.

How are web meetings changing how you work?


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