Tag Archives: Face-to-face

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.


Enterprise 2.0 Conference Still Percolating in my Head

Almost three weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend my first Enterprise 2.0 Conference, in Boston, MA. My attendance, though highly sought after (by me) for over a year (as a representative of the company I just “retired” from), was still somewhat serendipitous, and relied heavily on the generosity of Susan Scrupski, the Executive Director (or, as she is wont to describe herself, the Concierge) of the 2.0 Adoption Council.

This was a new experience for me and I had no knowledge of what, exactly, had taken place in previous conferences – other than what generally takes place at most conferences. There was one major difference this event was going to mean for me. For well over a year I had been accumulating “friends” through my use of social media, especially Twitter. I had never met any of these people face-to-face, yet many of them I felt I knew reasonably well and, in fact, quite a few of them I believed I could trust – at least as much as I would trust any colleague I had ever worked with. Now I was going to have the opportunity to spend some face-time with them, rubbing (and bending . . . over numerous beers) elbows for over three days.

A little over a month ago I posted about the possibilities of building relationships virtually and argued that face-to-face meetings, though valuable, were not necessarily the sine qua non of meaningful, trusting, and useful relationships. I was primarily addressing business relationships and, especially, the necessary interplay of colleagues – peripherally touching on sales and arms-length transactions as well.

I haven’t changed my thoughts on the value of virtual contact and the ability to have meaningful relationships without meeting face-to-face . . . but I surely had to think deeply about it after Boston. Here’s why. My first full day there I made it to the all-day Black-Belt practitioner’s session a couple hours late, due to several snafus I experienced with Boston’s public transportation. I entered a room with no less than 60 or 70 people seated at round tables facing the front of the room as a presentation was being given. I managed to find an empty space, sat down, and immediately started searching the room for “familiar” faces. I soon spotted two people I had become “friends” with via their blogs and, especially, through numerous conversations we’d had on Twitter – Luis Suarez and Mary Abraham (@elsau and @VMaryAbraham, respectively).

I was able to recognize both of them despite the fact I had never seen them in person and only knew what they looked like based on their avatars. This in and of itself should be a good indication of authenticity, now that I think about it. At any rate, as soon as there was a break I moved over to their table and was greeted with the warmth and enthusiasm reserved for old friends. I’m not sure I can adequately express the feelings I had right then and, frankly, it’s taken me this long to sort out my feelings and what I think I learned from the entire experience. I’m not quite certain I’ve processed it all yet, but I’m finally able to complete enough of my thoughts to get a blog out.

Later that evening, after the day’s conference activities were completed, Luis, Mary, and I sat in M. J. O’Connor’s (in the hotel where the conference was taking place) drinking Blue Moons, getting to know each other a bit better, and sorting through the day’s experience. I know that Luis has been to many of these conferences and, as one of the most vocal and prolific proponents I know of in favor of social media, he’s no doubt met many people over the years he had previously only know through virtual media. I don’t think it was the same for Mary and I know it wasn’t the same for me. This was the first time I had come face-to-face with people I had grown to know through Twitter, blogging, Facebook, etc. It was truly a wondrous experience.

Seriously, I’m still not entirely over the whole thing. Consider this. It was the first time in my life I attended a conference for my own benefit. Previously, I attended numerous conferences, but always as an employee of Rocketdyne (in all its incarnations during my career there). Before that, I was in small businesses and I don’t recall ever attending any conferences, so no experience on that level. Now let me bring this back to what I think I learned from this particular level of the experience.

It is possible to conduct business and to build a solid, trusting relationship with people you have never met. It is, however, far preferable to have some kind of face-to-face meeting at some point in time in order to solidify the relationship. Of course, now that I’ve written these words I realize I haven’t communicated with either Luis or Mary since returning to Southern California from Boston. Then again, it’s only been three weeks (almost) since the conference began and, given the intensity of the experience, I don’t suppose that’s so out of the ordinary. I took a week out of my life to attend and had a lot of catching up to do once I returned. Couple that with the death of my last (and favorite) uncle a week ago, I suppose it makes sense.

Oops! I’ve managed to digress, so let me return to my last thought. I believe people who wish to work together virtually can enhance the quality of their relationships by having at least occasional in-person meetings with their colleagues. However, I don’t think it’s a matter of the ability to experience body language, eye contact, etc. so many people assert as the most important aspects of human connection, as much as it’s just the informal, off-hand, and emergent conversations and interactions that can only happen during the course of an afternoon or evening spent together. This should include, if possible, sharing a meal or sitting in a pub and bending elbows over a pint or three of some good beer, ale, etc.

As I said, I haven’t entirely processed how I feel about this or what I think I’ve learned, but I’ve waited long enough to write something down about the experience. I plan on posting at least twice more on what I got out of the conference. My next post will be more of a compilation of the many posts others far more knowledgeable than me have written since the conference was over. Following that, I intend on discussing an issue of Enterprise 2.0 I think is missing from the equation; namely some of the design principles of Web 2.0 I think E2.0 should be emulating and that I don’t see at present. Stay tuned.


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