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Business meetings in cyberspace

There is no word that brings a cheer to the heart of some corporate honchos like the utterance 'meeting'. It lifts their spirit because it definitely means : 1. That they get to chat a lot of foolishness to an audience of half-dozing co-workers who are invariably in a lunch over-loaded stupor (especially if the meeting is held when 'ethnic fatigue' is likely to kick in) and 2. It relieves them of the burden of doing what they are being paid for, that is, 'real work'. The deal is sweetened even more splendidly if 'free' (company-paid) travel is thrown directly in the mix. All of a sudden life has true meaning again and all that brown-nosing has finally paid off, so come Tuesday morning it's goodbye boring office - hello perk-city.

To be fair, there are the others, like you and me, who will challenge Usain Bolt's gold medals, any time of day by our fleet-footed flight away from such meeting rooms. The very word will cause us to quake in our Clarks or Jimmy Choos, Either 1. Because we did not do our homework and so are not quite prepared for said meeting (ie we have not done what we were paid for) or 2. We are once again to be the hapless audience victims of the hitherto mentioned cheerful meeting-goers.

But, life has a plaster for every wound. Enter the internet - cyberspace - if you may and meetings-to-go; meetings on line, web-casts, webinars, web-conferences or chat-rooms. Call it what you will. We are meeting right here in cyberspace - not quite the place for the grandstanders despite all the hot-air that they bring to the table. Increasingly thanks to the lingering effects of the recession on-line meetings are becoming en vogue. These assembly in front of your computer monitor or a screen, allows you to share data and ideas, and interact with other team members who might be in remote locations. All this is just an internet connection away. For it to work you must have audio and video capabilities. I am not advertising for them but service providers include: Skype, Webex (a downloadable software that is accessed through your web browser) and GoToMeeting or GoWebinar or Office Live Meeting.

There are of course the pros and the cons of cyberspace business meetings but before I go much further I must declare that I am a big fan of on-line meetings. For one thing they save a lot of money in travel, accommodation and such delights of perk-city. Can you imagine the great look of disappointment on Vice Assistant to the President-in-Waiting of Company ABC, when he realizes that attending business meetings with global partners means stepping into the board room upstairs and not stepping on the Delta or AA flight? Boringgg. On the other hand these cyber-meetings are the stuff of the tight-fisted accountants' dreams. In their deep sleep they hear the 'ca-ching' of thousands of dollars in savings from 'unbooked' airline tickets and hotel suites. Then there are the 'the-don't-have-a-clue secretaries' some of who spend sleepless nights worrying if they had booked their bosses on the right class or flight. Have no fear ladies, those days will soon be all but gone.

My personal experience of these meetings that obviously does not involve physical face-to-face has been positive and productive. For one thing the items on the agenda are often achieved and the time is well-spent. There is no meandering and shooting the breeze in the cyber-meeting room because we have gathered here on line for a specific reason and will all depart when said mission is accomplished. The meeting grand-stander might find himself inside an empty vacuum, vaguely unsure whether or not the dead air means that his captive (he thought) audience is truly asleep or at the sound of his droning voice have gotten up from in front their monitors while he is on the floor.

It is true that while you might lose a miniscule part of the social side to these meeting - the fact is that the work gets done. For the past two years I have corresponded with business partners 17-hours away from our time zone, one of whom I have never met. But it has never impacted on the quality of the business we have conducted. I have participated in classes on line and it has not detracted from the quality of learning. You just have to be as focused and keen as you would be in a classroom situation.

Not all on-line business meetings work though. Industry and professional conferences will always be necessary. It is a fact that you have to schmooze in order not to lose out on the business deal. Human contact is paramount and a big part in the art of the deal.

One of the draw-backs in meeting for business on-line is the lack of social interaction. The snag is in the absence of the face-to-face contact and the inability to closely observe the other person's demeanor or nuances. You think, "How genuine are they being?" A large part of communication is the non-verbal. Relaxing over a drink and shooting the breeze while you try to connect with a potential business partner is not something you get to do in an on-line meeting. But love them or leave them - cyber meetings are here to stay.


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