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The curse of the teleconference and what to do about it

I’ve been thinking a lot about the inescapable march of technology in the last few months. And as I spend most of my days working out how best to connect employees to their organisation, and vice versa, I think a lot about how technology can help – or hinder – conversations in the workplace. And I am hanging out for someone to come up with a technologically facilitated face-to-face meeting. That actually works as a real-life face-to-face meeting.

tumble weed

Because in all my travels through lots of different types of organisation, the single most valued communication – from people at all levels – is face to face. And what are the technologists doing about this? Hmm? How are they helping global organisations have face-to-face conversations with their people?

At the moment – we’re stuck with teleconferencing, which is, perhaps, the antithesis of a good conversation; a perfect storm of an off-putting time delay, no facial cues, mistaken interruptions, and an unwillingness to dive in or participate in case everyone ends up in a tangle of “no, no, sorry… you first”.

Add to this the number of distractions when you’re bundled quietly at your desk. You wouldn’t dream of tinkering with the presentation for your next meeting when in a face-to-face meeting, but somehow, the ‘disconnectedness’ of a conference call means we invest less, hear less, and – ultimately – give and get less from a teleconference than a face-to-face meeting or conversation.

So, what to do? How can we stop the default to a largely accepted, but terrible method of communication and conversation?

What are the alternatives? If the logistics of a face to face just won’t work, consider a podcast, or a film. And then back this up with a live Q&A session on Yammer. Or better yet – instead of trying to create a bad facsimile of a face-to-face meeting, use technology to help. Have a conversation via Yammer to understand where people are at the moment, and then use the outcome of that to decide next steps – what do people want to know? What are the misconceptions that can be addressed? How do people want to hear it?
Or if a broadcast is necessary, direct people to line managers to have a chat about the broadcast afterwards – having already primed your line managers with a conversation. This approach is absolutely more involved and time-consuming, but also more effective.
And as I wait with bated breath for the technology that will help us out here, I wonder if this is an instance where technology will never improve on the low-fi solution – an actual conversation, in the flesh.

And then I remember that one day, of course technology will solve this! One day, some amazing bit of kit will sort out something so mind-blowing that you can conduct face-to-face conversations, and read body language, and get all those subconscious cues that we rely on – but thousands of miles apart. I can’t wait. I am done with teleconferences.

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