In the years BC (before COVID) there was a strict hierarchy. Meetings in the same room as one another were supreme. People who weren’t in person could dial in. The people dialling in felt like interlopers. They were peripheral to the discussion. Often people in the room forgot the people on the line existed at all. “Can you move a bit closer to the mic?” was often heard. People in the room talked over one another in the way in which people do, making the experience for people in a different place even worse.

Because the experience of being on the line was so dreadful, there was an assumption by most other than those who worked in the most geographically distributed of organisations that meetings online entirely would be a most inferior of experiences.

In the year DC (during COVID) there is a revelation that maybe meetings could work if everyone was online. There is an acceptance that we can use these tools, and maybe that meeting online is an experience that is better than a mix of in the room and online. We hanker after the BC days, though, and continue to believe that in the room is the best experience.

In the years AC (after COVID, or at least after the height of pandemic), as we start to explore shared physical spaces again, I wonder if something strange will happen. We have become used to working through video. Even though many claim we are all exhausted by it, they’ve obviously forgotten how exhausting being crammed into slow-running, delayed commuter trains at the height of summer could be.

We have learned new social etiquettes. We have learned to leave pauses and not talk over one another, a reaction to the limitations of technology that is perhaps leaving us more polite and courteous as a result. We have remembered that a meeting needs a chair or a facilitator. We have learned when it can be appropriate to turn off our cameras or mics.

When we go back into meeting rooms we will have these new skills that can’t apply in a physical room. And let’s be blunt – not everyone is going to be going into an office everyday in the future anyway. So the chances of everyone in the same room at the same time will be few and far between.

People in the room will suddenly feel disadvantaged. They won’t have a full-screen image of themselves taking equal part in the meeting. At best they’ll have something like an Owl camera that will provide a tiny widescreen view of the room as a whole, only zooming in when someone talks. At worst it will be a panorama shot of the whole table where no-one will be able to be seen properly online.

If you think everyone can log into the same video call in the same room at the same time then you’ll soon realise that everyone will then be looking at their screens, not each other. We’ll be meeting remotely, but with terrible acoustics.

In the years AC will our hierarchy of meetings shift once again? Will we see online as the primary form, with everyone in the same room at the same time so unusual as to be seen as second best because of the cost and complexity of organisation?

Thanks to the team for the brief chat in the huddle this morning to shape the thinking in this piece.

2 thoughts on “The hierarchy of meetings

  1. Nicely thought through, Matt.

    Tiny point: should ‘Best’ in the matrix you’ve drawn up actually be ‘Acceptable’ or something like that? I got caught up wondering what ‘Better’ meant in context. You can’t be better than best, but still, better than worse doesn’t quite sound right either!

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