Every meeting will now be an online meeting

Chris Tubb – LinkedIn

This is another take (from about a year ago) on remote working and the purpose of offices – this one based on a reductio ad absurdum arithmetic of meeting  arrangements. The bigger the meeting, the smaller the probability, all else being equal, that everybody is in the same place. So in practice almost any form of hybrid working has the result that the title asserts – every meeting ends up being online.

That has implications both for the management of meetings and the management of offices. Most office are designed to support individuals working at desks and groups meeting in meeting rooms. Neither of those is ideal for participation in online meetings, even before facing up to the prospect of commuting to an office only to spend most of the time talking to people who aren’t there. It is pretty clear that the set of individual optimisations does not sum to optimisation for the group.

That creates a need to manage the working environment – in its broadest sense – in very different ways. And as Tubb points out, the combination of issues involved somehow doesn’t quite belong anywhere:

There is no business owner for meetings. IT owns Microsoft Teams and the M365 stack. Corporate Real Estate and Facilities own meeting rooms. No one is the owner of better meeting behaviours it is left to the assumed soft skills of the individual, the line manager or project manager. 

Not for the first time, there are parallels with historic examples of how workplaces have adapted to technological and other changes; not for the first time sociology is at least as important as technology in understanding and influencing what it going on. And of course this particular instance of how technology enables social changes long predates the pandemic – a post I wrote almost ten years ago seems just as as relevant now.

The hard bit, particularly for established organisations, is culture, and particularly trust. If being present is no longer a job requirement, being present can no longer be a virtue. People have to be managed not on whether they turn up and look keen and energetic, but on what they achieve. How, when and where they do that becomes much more a choice for individual workers (and teams) and much less a matter of management standardisation. […] The message that comes across time and time again is that remote working has to be based on trust. Again though, remote working does not create the need for trust, it makes the need explicit and shows where it is missing. 

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