Advertisements

Tag Archives: body language

Is Meeting F2F All That Important?

Virtual Handshake

Nice to Meet You!

This morning I had a wonderful Skype conversation with my reasonably long-time “friend”, Euan Semple. I use “friend” because we’ve never met in person. We have, however, been connected through various social channels (including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) for something like six or seven years.

Euan had contacted me and suggested, since we were likely never to meet IRL (in real life), a Skype chat might be in order and asked if I was interested. I was. Actually, I was thrilled as I have enormous respect for Euan and the things he has accomplished. I urge you to check him out, especially his blog “The Obvious?“, to which he has been posting since February of 2001 (that’s 13 years!).

As the time for our conversation was approaching, I found myself wondering whether or not we should have a video chat, as opposed to merely audio. That got me thinking about the value of F2F (face-to-face or IRL) meetings, which then drew me into the value of virtual teams and meetings and, finally, all the possibilities and ramifications in between.

I have written previously about virtual teams and the value of in-person contact, but I took things in a slightly different direction this time (at least I think I did) and Euan added an important piece as well, later on in our conversation. So here are some of the things I was wondering:

  • How important is breaking bread together for team/group cohesion?
  • Assuming it can prove valuable, can you “share” a meal virtually? In other words, is there value to meeting at a time where all those involved (especially if it’s only two or three people) can spend part of the time — perhaps all of it — just eating and shooting the shit?
  • Assuming “water cooler” conversations can be quite valuable, is there a virtual analog, e.g. chat, IM?
  • Is there value in being able to pick up body language and, if so, how much?
  • How likely is it that a person can disguise their true feelings and “fool” their colleagues/fellow attendees when they’re meeting face-to-face? Euan had suggested it would be easier for some to do this in person precisely because of body language and eye contact.
  • What about when they’re meeting virtually? Can’t a video chat accomplish almost the same thing?
  • Can a virtual team work without ever meeting in person?
  • If not, how long should the intervals be between f2f meetings and what can be done in between to build cohesiveness and get things done?

This is just a placeholder and starter list. There are likely many issues I’ve missed and that others have thought of. I’d love to hear what you think.

Advertisements

Do I Really Have to Look at Your Ugly Mug?

My Babies

No Rights Reserved. So There!!

I had a great lunch with two former colleagues (and continuing friends) at a superb Korean restaurant today; one I never would have gone to on my own merely because it was in a location I just wouldn’t have thought of stopping to eat in. Then again, for many years I haven’t been the type of person who goes out much for lunch. I used to bring my lunch and eat at my desk and continue screwing arou . . . er . . . working. So, during the conversation we got to talking about one of my favorite subject, which is how important is face-to-face contact . . . really?

Lots of people I know insist face-to-face meetings are, hands down, the best way to conduct meetings. They believe the numerous signals that can’t be communicated virtually are so important to understanding and communication that without them too much is lost. To them, conducting meetings virtually is not useful enough to justify engaging in often. To some, it is of no value at all unless it includes a voice connection (at the least) as well. I’m not sure I agree with them. Actually, I don’t agree with them at all. I am in the opposite camp.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of face-to-face meetings. After all, you can’t go out drinking together if you aren’t actually together. Nevertheless, in today’s environment and, perhaps, regardless of how much the economic situation improves, travel is expensive in all kinds of ways. There’s the money spent on the travel and lodging itself. There’s the lost productivity while stuck in airports or overcoming jet lag. There’s the societal costs associated with the resources used to fly jets, drive cars, etc, etc. There’s being away from one’s family and the pressure that brings. There’s the cost of bringing souvenirs home for your kids that will often as not end up under the couch within a couple of days, not to be seen for a while (and surely not missed).

I just don’t buy the argument that being able to read facial expressions and body language are all that important. Perhaps when negotiating a complex contract, where there’s a bit of gamesmanship going on, it’s absolutely necessary. However, in the kinds of arms-length transactions that make up the bulk of the activity people travel to conduct, we can usually presume a desire to achieve the same, or similar, results – can’t we? I have a lot of relationships these days with people I have never met in person. I’ve seen still pictures (mostly avatars), but nothing else of them. Frankly, I don’t even know for sure it’s what they look like. Yet, there are ways in which trust is attained; built up in thin, seemingly tenuous layers of  engagement; in the sharing of innocuous details of one’s activities and interests, etc. Some of my “virtual” friends I feel closer to than I do to many of my “analog” friends.

This I attribute to the richness of communication that generally emerges with the proper use of a good social system. For instance, Twitter allows me to engage with people on several different continents. Over time, I know (and I can reasonably confirm it to be true) where they work, what they do, what they like, and – especially – what they think about things I like to think about. Over time I can determine whether or not they keep their word; that is, how trustworthy they are. In communication and collaboration, nothing is more valuable in my opinion than trust.

I want to repeat my position here. I am not suggesting meeting people in person is not valuable or that we can do away with it. I do believe, however, if we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to work with someone we just wouldn’t have the opportunity to sit in the same room with . . . it wouldn’t be all that terrible. I’m going to Boston next month to attend the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. Frankly, my main reason for going is to meet – in person – at least a dozen people I have been interacting with for various periods of time who I have grown to trust and respect. I wasn’t going to go, despite my desire to meet up with these new friends. Fortunately, one of them (@ITSinsider, aka Susan Scrupski) made me an offer I just couldn’t refuse. Had I not been able to attend in person I still would have continued my relationships with these friends, and I believe they would have grown and improved.

So. I kind of hope I’ve gored someone’s ox. Otherwise, why do I reveal myself this way? Who’s going to join the fray? Virtually speaking.


%d bloggers like this: