Monday, 5 March 2012

Meetings Technology to replace Face to Face?

Several publications including Events, Our Industry, Meetings & Incentive Travel and Conference News have covered a recent piece by Zibrant's Fay Sharpe on the 'rocketing use of meetings technology'.

It might be easy to read her claims that ‘up to 20% of ‘ritual’ face to face meetings will be replaced by virtual meetings’ and feel deeply concerned for the events and meetings sector.

However, I believe that trying to attribute specific outcomes to the rapid march of technology is a risky pastime. The combination of mind-blowing advances in technology and financial austerity will indeed cause fundamental changes in the way people work, communicate, share and create knowledge, but not necessarily with the most obvious outcomes.

The broader technology driven picture is that organisational structures are being re-invented. Teams are replacing hierarchies; projects are replacing routine administration and access to data is ubiquitous.

Sundial Group has hosted ‘management training’ for almost 50 years but I have been amazed at how rapidly this is changing. Corporate learning and development was dominated by ‘chalk and talk’. The information age with its immediate access to the world’s data has made most of this classroom learning redundant. This could have spelt the end of management centres but it hasn’t, there have never been so many dedicated venues!

Nowadays corporate development is all about the creation rather than learning of knowledge. Communication is the lifeblood of this way of working. Traditional teaching has been replaced by skills development, team working, creativity and experiential learning.

Strangely one of civilizations oldest events, due to take place this summer in London is helping to accelerate another organisational change. The anticipated disruption to commuters is driving the already established trend of remote working. Some of the most traditional industries and professions have realised that the day has arrived when they don’t need everyone in the office every day. Leading consultancies such as Corpra are developing and testing strategies for this summer that will drive irreversible change.

So what might be the bigger picture for venues and the future for face to face meetings? I believe that organisations will move away from the day to day office based environment but instead will look to bring people together as and when there is a need. They won’t want to maintain expensive HQ buildings capable of housing all office staff at once but they will want to use the most conducive environment, tailor-made for a project to be launched, reviewed or shared and for team face time to accelerate innovation and create knowledge.

Technology is indeed changing how we work but I firmly believe that the human need for physical proximity as an adjunct to the communication experience will be with us for a long time. There may indeed be growth in remote meetings but at Sundial we are focused on how the future will drive a need for the best face to face meeting environment because we believe the need has never been greater.”

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