The Social Networker

by Chris Miller at 02:51:28 PM on Monday, October 6th, 2008
In a recent discussion, the topic of the value of face to face meetings over strictly virtual meetings came around.  My thought is with the proper definition of virtual, you can have the same effect as f2f (face to face for simplicity sake) in most, read that as not all, scenarios.  With the growth of audio/video capabilities, knowledge sharing sites, profiles and presence, what is gained by f2f meetings?  Not much a this time.  There was a point where all sales calls were made in person, with someone flying or driving all around a region.  Burning time and energy just to have a conversation?  With the advent and advancement in technologies, whiteboards, brainstorming, document sharing and conversations are all possible, just as if you were sitting right there.  Humorously in theory, only one person in a room can work on a document while in person unless it is shared online.  If so, you are right back to the point of why are you all in the same room?

Massive amounts of communication and collaboration are occurring online throughout thousands of social and sharing sites as far too many of us sit in meetings all day long accomplishing nothing.

Saying that, certain scenarios inherently beg to be in person.  The final stages of project readiness, isolated conversations to remove distractions.  Many times while we are on conference calls, instead of focusing on the conversation, we find ourselves Twittering, instant messaging and basically trying to process mass amounts of data, including news feeds.  The isolation factor of a f2f removes that problem.  We have a rule in "hot" meetings that you do not even bring in your phones or computers.  A phone that rings in one of those could end your day.  If you cannot simply stop tapping your pen and pay attention, then the meeting is too long or the topic has strayed.  Or worse, you shouldn't have been there in the first place.  I personally have been part of those and politely excused myself stating that there were no topics I could contribute to.  Online makes that so much easier.

Now we enter the combination of the two where two groups, or a group on one side and individual on the other, take advantage of both virtual and f2f.  With this, you combine one side in an isolated meeting with no distractions and a virtual person that might be screensharing or simply listening and conversing.

So I lean towards virtual winning over f2f with the understanding that there aer some slimmer instances where f2f is required, versus requested.

  • 1) Virtual versus Face-to-Face Collaboration value, who wins?
    Created by Lars Olufsen at 10/06/2008 4:48:11 PM email | website

    I think both sides have strenghts that just can't be rivaled from the other side.

    Virtual Advantages are of course speed and distance, and also a large diversity in functionality, with most niches covered.

    F2F Advantages are more personal or 'intimate' and relate to cultural challenges as well as the better understanding of communication that comes from adding body language, and while Video is available in the Virtual space, I don' t think it provides the same emphasis as 'real', physical presence.

    I think my boss would tear my head off, if I tried to excuse myself from a F2F meeting. I agree that it is easier in the virtual space.

    I think the largest problem in the virtual space is, that many companies are hesitant to use online tools due mainly to security issues.

    If the companies use the 'public' infrastructure, they face security challenges, and if they implement corporate solutions, they often have compatibility issues against partners and customers. (i.e. customers using MS Live Messenger - company using Sametime).

    Of course - this can all be solved, but it is a challenge for many companies today.

  • 2) Virtual versus Face-to-Face Collaboration value, who wins?
    Created by Steve McDonald at 10/07/2008 5:21:29 AM email | website

    I think it comes down to body language. Particularly important in the context of negotiations. It is very challenging to get from a emoticon or a funny remark on a con call the full understanding of someone's intended meaning. Were they being funny or a smartass? Was there someone sitting next to them that shared a funny look with them at your expense? Are they on IM with everyone else in the meeting and not giving you 100% of their attention? This is all hard to read and when business discussions are critical, but you still want to save on travel, the virtual meeting just doesn't cut it for many scenarios.

    Have you had a chance to experience Telepresence? This really blurs the line between F2F and Virtual meetings. The combination of hi def video at a real time framerate with audio that will draw your eyes to the exact location of a hand tapping on a desk is incredible. Combine Telepresence with sharing documents via collaboration software and you have a very compelling virtual meeting. There is the matter of cost, but as bandwidth costs continue to fall and endpoints like the Cisco CS500 and CS1000 get cheaper and cheaper, it soon will be generally affordable.

    For now, if you have critical business regularly with people across the country or around the world, it pays for itself.

  • 3) Virtual versus Face-to-Face Collaboration value, who wins?
    Created by Victor Toal at 10/07/2008 8:49:53 AM email |

    Whereas I believe that your comments are probably right for two (or more) parties that have the same attitude towards meetings and technology in general. When two non-compatible parties meet, a f2f is gets a whole different level of importance. As Steve mentioned above, body language, interaction etc. are quite different. Lars also mentioned that the level of concentration, attention and display of commitment in a f2f is totally different. You can multitask and concentrate on other things in a virtual meeting in ways that would be simply rude to do in f2f.

    I always find that when facts need to lead the way, a virtual meeting is often the best solution (or at least an acceptable one) but if there are more social topics to be covered (for lack of better vocabulary) then f2f are often better. Non-verbal communication is one of the reasons, but the other is also the commitment you show by getting your B-Hind to where the other party is and showing up in person.

    Just like you don't want to go back-and-forth with e-mails on and on about issues (mostly problems) when yo can pick up the phone and just talk it out, everybody needs to be cognizant of what form of meeting is more effective for the topic/occasion and the parties involved.

  • 4) re: Virtual versus Face-to-Face Collaboration value, who wins?
    Created by Chris Miller at 10/07/2008 12:48:34 PM email | website

    @Steve, I need to see telepresence for sure

  • 5) Virtual versus Face-to-Face Collaboration value, who wins?
    Created by BryanG at 10/07/2008 1:53:04 PM email | website

    Replacing f2f meetings and communication with virtual meetings requires that you also redefine your communication process. Virtual meetings require different systems of planning and accountability. Often the tendency is to simply substitute one for the other and then teams, management wonder why they are not successful.

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