One of the arguments for adoption of collaboration products such as web conferencing and video conferencing is that they make meetings more effective. By eliminating the time spent taking attendance, ensuring that all participants have the right version of a file, and making sure that everyone is on the same page of a presentation, meetings should in theory be more effective, and potentially even shorter. Furthermore, tools such as shared whiteboards, instant message systems, and perhaps even video should all contribute to making meeting via web conferencing more effective than the plain old audio bridge. Video solutions such as telepresence are marketed as a way to improve the effectiveness of meetings that in-person meeting requirements can be reduced.
But what about doing something to reduce the sheer number of meetings? In a chat I had this week with an IT executive he argued that the real goal of an effective collaboration strategy ought to be to not just make meetings better, but to figure out how to eliminate the need for meetings altogether. Based on my own experiences, as well as the concerns over meeting overload I constant hear from other individuals, I find it hard to argue against his point.
So how can we use collaboration tools to reduce meeting overload? I’d argue the first step is look at the kinds of meetings that you hold. Can project status checks be replaced with a project management system that allows team members to easily update the status of their tasks? Or, can team leaders simply use instant messaging to ping team members to compile status updates that can then be posted to a non-real-time collaborative environment? Can shared workspaces, wikis, or other collaborative environments enable the free exchange of ideas in non-real-time that typically occurs during brainstorming sessions? Look at the culture of your organization? Is the first task of a new project manager the scheduling of a weekly or bi-weekly call? If so, look for opportunities to change that culture by requiring the use of project management and collaboration tools rather than the weekly status checks.
So far we haven’t seen collaboration vendors marketing the potential of their offerings to reduce meetings rather than simply make them more effective. Perhaps the opportunity to sell enterprises on the opportunities to eliminate the volume of meetings required for most project and team tasks offers more potential for enterprise benefit then just improving the meeting experience itself?