Binary choices, poor decisions

Jul 08 2014 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Which one of these statements would you agree with? 1. Virtual meetings will be the death of human communication. Or 2. People who don’t embrace their virtual overlords are technophobic and doomed to go the way of the stegosaurus.

One of the frustrating parts of working with our clients around the world is when smart people make poor decisions through false thinking. The most common example is the begrudging (and thus slow and wasteful) adoption of webinars and virtual meetings because of assumptions like the above.

There are lots of good reasons not to adopt new technology. Tools are too expensive, they don’t solve underlying problems, or they’re more trouble than they’re worth. Unfortunately, many decisions are taken based on concerns that don’t really make sense. The most common is that somehow using virtual meeting or web conferencing tools is supposed to permanently, irrevocably take the place of face-to-face meetings or communication. Given those two choices, it’s not a big surprise that people don’t rush to embrace new ways of doing things.

People like to boil things down to simple, binary, choices even when there’s no reason to limit the options. The issue isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) between either getting face to face and not using technology, or using virtual meetings exclusively and you’ll never see your teammates again. It’s which tool to use when to get the best results for you and your team.

It’s not a simple “either/or” conversation. Using webinars doesn’t mean you’ll never get together again. Nor does opting for a face to face meeting mean you’re turning your back on the wonders of technology.

So how do you get past that “one-or-the-other” dilemma?

Sometimes speed is of the essence. Have you ever thought about how much time is wasted in getting people physically together, especially if they’re coming from different locations? Is that travel, lost productivity and delay in meeting worth the effort? That’s not a rhetorical question. Sometimes meeting in the same place at the same time is exactly the right thing to do. Just know why you’re making the decisions you’re making, and make them for the right reasons.

Will short virtual meetings make for better live meetings? One of the biggest complaints about face to face meetings is the amount of time taken up with administration, sharing information that could have been shared in other ways and not maximizing the collaborative energy of the team. If you were to do a few virtual meetings to take care of the administrivia and maximize the time spent together, wouldn’t that be a better investment?

If I can have four small meetings instead of one, isn’t that a better choice? As a consultant, I love meeting my clients and team members face to face. Sometimes, though, I can have more meetings in a single day by firing up my webcam and never leaving my desk. Some meetings are strategic (I want to make the effort to meet face to face) and some are tactical (we just need to talk about this and move on with our lives). Do you know the difference?

It all comes down to a balance of “richness vs scope”. One of the key concepts we teach in our classes about leading remote teams is something Dr Bettina Buechel came up with a few years ago. Most business communication strikes a balance between “richness” (the amount of verbal, visual and non-verbal information communicated that helps drive understanding and relationships) and “scope” (the very real need to get multiple people information across time and space).

When the matter is important enough, or people need context or the ability to share information and feelings, you focus on richness because you need to pull everyone together. When it’s simple, or time is of the essence and you need to get information out fast, you go for scope. Send that email or do a quick conference call.

The point is that each of these situations requires a conscious decision. Should you take the time, effort and expense to gather everyone physically? Quite possibly. Is what we’re going to discuss important enough that everything can go on hold until it happens? Very often, that’s the case.

The trick is to stop thinking of “virtual vs live” as the only solutions. It’s not using one instead of the other. It’s using one with the other, in the right way at the right time.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.