The first organisation in which I worked that really did a lot of conference calling was Reuters. I found it really hard some times when a whole group of people, very expensively co-located in plush offices in the centre of London’s Canary Wharf, would be forced to sit at desks and individually dial into meetings where a few folk from other countries were dialling in.

It felt like such a waste.

But now as we enter the third week (or for some, fourth) of Lock Down Pandemic World, one of the things I’m noticing is that the conferencing tools that so many of us are now depending on have become democratised.

In my work around collaborative technologies in the past few years one thing that I have repeatedly noticed is that when a small group of people are connecting into a meeting remotely when the mass are sitting in the same physical space, the remote participants are merely observers. It’s not just a matter of good or bad facilitation – the people “in the room” have access to far more information and signals than those who are far away.

The tacit stuff, the body language. It’s only available to the part of the group. that’s in the room.

But at the moment, we are all equal. Everybody is working at home on Friday. And Monday to Thursday too. And as a result, we have all got equal access. The fidelity of the meeting overall is less for many, but maybe the quality (barring local bandwidth issues) is better for all because we are now all in the same “room”.

When all of this is over, I reckon we’ll probably revert. We’ll have rooms full of people where some people connect remotely, and we’ll wonder why the technology isn’t working as well as it did in pandemic world.

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