Adobe Connect, WebEX, GoToMeeting, LiveMeeting, Skype, Elluminate (what am I missing?), these web conferencing tools are not just for meeting at a distance.
Here are 4 reasons why you should hold more of your meetings online, even if everyone meeting works together on the same campus:
1. Future Telecommuters: Even if every member today comes to the office or campus, I can guarantee you that very soon now someone on your team (maybe you) will want to and need to work at a distance. Maybe someone on your team will start working a couple of days a week at home, to save on commute time or to balance family obligations. Or perhaps another member of your group will find that working at home some allows for greater productivity, a time to focus on projects. Perhaps your smartest and most productive team member will need to move because of a job change in her family, and you will face the choice of making arrangements for her to work remotely or losing this person. The point is that we all need to be as flexible and proactive as possible in retaining our best people, and these efforts should include a path to remote work. Holding Web meetings know will allow your team to go up the learning curves, and to establish the rhythms and practices necessary for good online meetings.
2. Current Telecommuters: If you have a telecommuter on your team, someone who is "distributed" or "non-local" full or part-time, it makes sense to have as many meetings as possible via web platforms. You can mix things up with a combination of everyone on their own web meeting, in their own offices (meaning that everyone on the meeting is on the same footing, both local and distant), and team meetings where the local people are together interacting with the distant person through one computer. Skype, with a good web cam and a laptop that can be rotated, actually works pretty well for a mixed face-to-face and distant meeting (as long as the numbers of people meeting are small, and the room is set up well).
3. Reduced Friction and Increased Speed: I like scheduling web meetings for campus people because of the reduced friction. No need for everyone to go from building to building. No need to interrupt the normal workflow. The lack of non-verbal cues can be a challenge in virtual meetings, but I've found that virtual meetings get down to business faster (less chit chat), and end sooner. A 30 minute meeting usually works well on the web. We use Adobe Connect, and I really like the meeting rooms, and how the meeting agenda and notes stays from meeting to meeting. Everyone can see what we did last meeting, and what the agenda is for the current meeting. Running a good virtual meeting takes preparation (sending out the agenda etc.), and good meeting practices (such as making sure everyone has a chance to talk, that the meeting moves along the agenda, and that the meeting outcomes or "to dos" are clear).
4. The Social Element: In my experience, online meetings are less draining than face-to-face meetings. I want to be clear. We should not abandon face-to-face time together. In fact, I've found having good online meetings encourages us to build in time for face-to-face encounters that are more social in nature. Go to coffee with your colleagues in your unit, and across your university and company. Greet people in the morning. Say goodbye in the evening. Walk to your colleagues office rather than send an e-mail. But meetings do not need to be social spaces, and can be focused, fast, and on-message. We probably cant' have less meetings, but we can have meetings with less friction.
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