Orginally published on CIO.co.uk, July 2015. During lockdown I’ve been observing that online meetings strip out much of the value of getting people together. Seems it took a tube strike to observe this first time around…

This week we saw transport chaos in London with the walkout of London Underground staff causing the most significant Tube closure in over a decade. But in our digitally-connecting working world of 2015 surely such things shouldn’t matter anymore? Whether the impact of the all-out strike was bigger than those that have gone before is a matter of conjecture, but there can be no doubt that it still made a big dent in the working day for many Londoners. We might have access to virtual and flexible working patterns, but we still want or need to be in the office.

There are a stack of reasons why we are still so physically-based when it comes to work. Some jobs are about being present (think healthcare, social care, retail, law enforcement…); many of us are creatures of habit; some management styles can’t quite adapt to the idea that someone can be working when they’re not physically present.

And then some things are just, well, better face to face. Which got me thinking.

Maybe that the technology that we provide to enable people to work collaboratively has missed the point?

Let’s take meetings, for example. You know, those things that everyone talks endlessly about how effective they are? Oh yes, we love meetings. They’re so productive.

So why, when nobody can really see the point of meetings do they perpetuate within organisations? Part of the reason I am certain is because meetings give us an excuse to be together with other people. Semi-structured watercooler moments, as it were. And so the benefit that sustains meetings as a thing isn’t the content or the structure – it’s the side conversations and the building of bonds.

What have we as technologists done with providing meeting services in the online and virtual worlds? We’ve taken all of the good bits out of meetings and left people with the crappy ineffective stuff. 

No wonder people love conference calls so much. And no wonder why people are willing to stomp half-way across London on a Tube Strike day…

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