"You can easily substitute electronically mediated meetings for face-to-face meetings without a deprecated experience for both parties, and with none of the associated emissions from travel."
Christian Renaud, blogger and chief architect of networked virtual environments, Cisco Technology Center
By Christian Renaud
We live in a sea of communications options. So why do people still hop on cross-country flights for two-hour face-to-face meetings instead of using rich collaboration technologies like video conferencing, voice over the Internet and virtual worlds?
I was one of those people. I had spent the first three-quarters of 2007 almost living on aircraft. But I knew there was a more environmentally friendly — not to mention time-efficient — way to accomplish the same outcomes.
So in October 2007, I made a resolution to use virtual world technologies — in tandem with video conferencing, IP telephony, and web conferencing (using WebEx) — instead of air travel and face-to-face meetings for the remainder of the year.
How to Do the Virtual Life
For the next three months I attended or presented at all but one event "virtually" — often using virtual worlds for one event and video-conferencing for a later event that same day.
What I discovered during this process was that, for the majority of human-to-human interactions, you can easily substitute electronically mediated meetings for face-to-face meetings without a deprecated experience for both parties, and with none of the associated emissions from travel.
Here are three things I found to be particularly helpful in deprogramming people from defaulting to an in-person meeting:
- "Expectation management" — being proactive in broadcasting to meeting organizers that I could participate remotely, however not in person. This message gave the organizers the freedom to decide if they would risk some social slight in having a remote presenter or not, and give them a graceful way to reconsider.
- Always provide a follow-up mechanism to the remote attendees — in my case, my blog URL and email address.
There are always some people at meetings who are reticent to ask questions during the event, then come up to you immediately afterwards. But if you have already virtually disappeared, they're left without answers. By being able to follow up afterwards (analogous to swapping business cards for a follow-up call), you're still able to connect with everybody who participated.
- Pick the right tool for the job. Calls or emails are good for simple questions. But for a once-a-month 1:1 with an employee, video conferencing allows you to connect at richer level.
For meetings with many participants — where a telephone call would be cacophonous and a video conference would look like a test pattern — virtual worlds are the best tool. They allow multiple participants to interact as they would were they physically proximate.
When the Personal Touch Is Required
When must you meet in-person? The more sensitive the context (or content), the more the participants want to see you face-to-face. Being there provides all of the participants the benefit of those non-verbal queues so critical to important and/or sensitive conversations.
But for the vast remainder of daily interactions, you’ll catch me using virtual worlds, video conferences, web conferencing and Internet telephony during 2008.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.