Yesterday I found myself I seem to be finding myself on an increasing basis.
Having received an urgent meeting request last week for an event which was taking place at a location several hundred miles away from my home and my normal office location I needed to make a decision about attending.
There was a tele-conference option available which I decided to use. On Friday afternoon, however, I received a couple of phone calls stating that my physical presence would be greatly appreciated, necessary even. As a result of the calls I planned to travel. Travel is one of the things that we control quite tightly at my place of work so that decision meant getting approval and a good deal of messing about.
Within two minutes of being in the meeting room I knew I had a mistake.
The meeting started.
People were presented with a document to review along with some instructions.
People left the meeting room to undertake their reviews.
I was left as the only person in the room reading the document.
While I didn’t mind reviewing the document, that was my role for the day after all, I did mind the physical, financial, man-hour and environmental impact of travelling.
While this is an example of where I’ve unnecessarily travelled, but there are also plenty of occasions where I haven’t travelled but should have. I’ve also used tele-conferencing where video conferencing would have been better, and vice-versa. Sometimes I’ve used email to communicate something when I should really have presented it, and again vice-versa.
Once upon a time it would have been simple. I would have known when I needed to meet someone face-to-face, when a report was required, and when a phone called would suffice. Those few options made things a lot simpler. There was a clear demarcation between the different communications media.
Today we have the joy, and the course, of choice. The challenge is that much of this choice is overlapping in its capability – we need to be able to predict the meeting contents before we can optimise the most appropriate way of interacting.
What I don’t think we yet have is a way of establishing meetings that enables us to understand prior to the event how to make it work best.
I find that, in general, people underestimate the complexity of the interaction that they are going to engage in and in so doing struggle to utilise a technology that is wholly inappropriate to the event. This error is then compounded by our inability to abort wrongly configured interactions.
At some point I’m sure that these issues will all go away and we’ll all be able to interact in a near-real-world manner wherever we are, but for now we need to do a better job of preparing meetings so that we use the right tool for the right job.