Has the meeting become obsolete?

Tools

The conventional business meeting is under siege, and the attacks are coming from every direction. On one front is the relentless onslaught of videoconferencing and telepresence technologies. On the other are the digital habits of the young and restless, the up and coming executive who would rather manage over email and chat than the conference table.

Virtual conferencing technologies are poised to be the next big thing when it comes to rapidly disruptive forces, writes Ron Ashkenas in a blog post on Harvard Business Review. As they become more robust, cheaper and more widely deployed, they pose an ever-growing threat to the travel industry. Calling this a "nightmare scenario" for airlines, Ashkenas says it will make doing business globally easier for everyone else.

While much of this technology has been pretty clunky in the past, it is fast improving, according to Ashkenas. In a recent videoconference involving participants at several different locations around the world, he found that there were no delays or interruptions, and the video quality was so good that he was able to read the small print on soda cans at other locations.

Conventional meetings appear to be particularly rare at companies run by relatively young executives, writes Dan Woods in a post at Forbes. They are being replaced by "unstructured collaboration," in which management reaches out through continuous emails, instant messages and internal social networking.

Woods examines the underlying dynamic of meetingless management, concluding that it implies that employees are trusted to work basically on their own and ask for help if they need it. While at first glance it may seem possible to manage an organization without ever gathering colleagues in one room, it may not work in all environments.

If a company has divisions with competing priorities, it may be tough to avoid confusion and tension without meetings. As companies try to reduce travel expenses and meeting time, they should add processes to maintain some control, Woods recommends. Work monitoring, checklists, conflict resolution, resource tracking, brainstorming and fellowship opportunities can all help smooth the way in the absence of meetings. 

For more:
- read Ron Ashkenas' post at Harvard Business Review
- read Dan Woods' post at Forbes

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