Digitization’s Impact on Meetings

Rock, Paper … Digital

Digitization has impacted the way many admin. professionals prepare for meetings. In response to my May 10/17 Weekend Poll, 79% of respondents reported that their organisations have portals. 50% have portals specifically for their boards and board committees, while 29% have portals that are also used by employees for committee purposes.

We also know that use of SharePoint and intranets is on the rise in offices; 68% of respondents reported that their organisations use SharePoint/have an intranet.

As part of this series, I asked panel members Sofie Koark, MistiLynn Lokken, Janice Parker, Helen Rees and Julia Schmidt to discuss how digitization has impacted the way their organisations prepare for and conduct meetings.

Do one or more of your meeting rooms offer capacity for web conferencing?

Agenda packages

It’s been almost seven years since I last produced a hard copy agenda package, and I do not miss those days! No more collecting hard copy documents from my colleagues and heading to the photocopier. There’s also no more assembly line production, in which I used to stack all participants’ agenda packages, with staggered coloured papers tucked in as placeholders for those late submissions.

The occasional late submission is an almost inevitable fact of life but, if you’re digitizing your meeting materials, you can insert those last-minute documents into a PDF or upload them to your portal without lugging and sorting through massive agenda packages.

Then there are other efficiencies. Meeting participants do not have to be in their offices or at their homes to receive the agenda packages. It’s not uncommon for busy people to download their digitized agenda package and review it in an entirely different city, or even country than the one in which you’ll be meeting. You’re reducing your use of consumables such as paper, staples, envelopes and more. Some of these savings are offset by the cost of establishing and maintaining a portal, but if your agenda distribution list includes people who do not work in your office or company, you’re also likely saving on courier costs.

  • Helen: Our Board and Committee meeting agendas and papers are circulated electronically, drastically reducing the amount of paper I have to print and send them. Only two of our 12 Trustees now opt in to having hard copy meeting packs. I keep one paper copy for archival purposes.
  • Janice:  I produce hard copy packs for client meetings that my boss attends, though on the rare occasion it has been a digital version when we haven’t been able to collate the information in enough time to print and bind. We keep all of the information digitally, so do not tend to keep the hard copies afterwards.
  • Julia: We are an IT company, so we are not running paper-based meetings. I keep a hard copy for archival purposes.
  • MistiLynn: Some materials, especially with small print and/or highly sensitive, still require paper but we are making good progress in going digital.
  • Sofie: We try to print as little as possible to save the environment. We also use digital signatures as much as possible. We use Office 365/SharePoint to collaborate on documents, and for team cooperation and meeting material.
  • Readers: In my May 10/17 Weekend Poll, I posed the same question to readers. 28% of participants reported that they continue to produce hard copy materials for all meeting participants. 16% reported that they produce only a single hard copy agenda package, for archival purposes; that’s a recommended practice when working with portals. 36% of respondents reported that they produce hard copy materials on an exception basis, for detailed drawings and financial reports.


Do people continue, for the most part, to conduct meetings in person?

In MistiLynn’s company, the answer is yes. It’s yes, mostly in Helen’s organisation. In Janice’s executive search firm, it can depend on who’s involved in a given meeting. Janice and her colleagues endeavour to schedule face-to-face meetings, but 50% of them will be conducted via Skype or FaceTime.

Julia’s organisation has offices in three different countries, and so colleagues meet both in person and by video conference.

In-person meetings are essential for relationship building

Sofie observed, “I don’t think that meetings in person will be totally replaced by online meetings. Meetings in person are essential to build relationships and some of our most important meetings at Academic Work will always be in person. That is when you can create a great culture and really connect. I think it is a human need to want to meet and interact with others in real life. Some meetings are very practical to handle over video conference and can minimize unnecessary travels and save time and the environment. You need a good balance between IRL (In Real Life) meetings and online meetings.”

You need balance between IRL (In Real Life) and online meetings

What about readers’ experiences? Well, 33% of participants in my May 10/17 Weekend Poll reported that the majority of meetings at their organisations are held in person. Technology, however, is helping people who might otherwise not be able to attend participate; 63% of respondents reported that the majority of meetings are held in person, with some people participating remotely.


What resources do you use for web-based meetings?

It’s only 14 years since Skype was founded, but it’s been well used in the time since. Back in 2006, it was an incredible advantage (and a bit of a novelty) for one of our selection committees to be able to interview a UAE-based candidate by Skype, rather than flying him to Canada. Now, we have a number of options.

What about our panelists’ worlds in 2017? Helen reported that web conferencing isn’t applicable in her organisation. It’s a different story in Janice’s environment. She commented, “Our organisation and my team in particular works globally and if we aren’t able to schedule meetings for my boss or our clients in person, we turn to web-based conferencing software, such as Skype, Zoom and VMR (Virtual Meeting Room). Many of our clients and candidates are familiar with these systems with aides in the organisation and set-up for calls/meetings.”

Sample tools: AdobeConnect, FaceTime, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, VMR

Julia’s organisation has a video conferencing tool and also uses Skype for Business.  While MistiLynn’s company holds most meetings in person, she advised that they’ve made strides in web-based conferencing through AdobeConnect and Skype for Business.

Sofie’s employer also relies on Skype for Businessand has four video conference meeting rooms at their offices. She noted that it’s good to be able to see the person you are talking to, and to be able to make eye contact and observe body language.

When I asked readers which  systems they turn to for remote participation in meetings, web conferencing topped the list. Skype/Skype for Business are also well used, but readers identified conference calls as being used more so than they did Skype or FaceTime.

If you’ve made the leap to web conferencing, though, you may be with me in wondering how long people will be content to rely solely on audio. My experience is that meetings are much more effective when participants are able to see one another, even if faces are appearing on a screen rather than across the table.


Why you should tap into web conferencing for meetings

You don’t necessarily need web conferencing if your meeting participants are typically in the same building or located nearby, and have good availability. If you’re part of a national or international organisation, though, using such resources generates both cost and time efficiencies … and, whatever your situation, you’ll likely meet with higher attendance rates than otherwise.

Committee members who must travel can often participate remotely rather than requiring you to reschedule a meeting

Web conferencing needn’t imply that all your participants are huddled ’round their respective computer or laptop screens. While that may be the case, my experience is that the technology is a lifesaver when you need to schedule a meeting but it turns out that a couple of participants will be out of town. As long as they can carve out the requisite time to participate remotely, you can proceed with business without having to poll or otherwise canvas the entire group for an alternate meeting date.

What if you, or your company, haven’t yet tapped into such resources? I asked my panelists to offer suggestions that may encourage people to adapt to web-based conferencing.

Janice suggested that, “… especially for an event webinar or a client/candidate meeting, make sure the instructions provided in your confirmation invite/email are clear and succinct as possible, with any nuances between different web browsers/operating systems – i.e., Windows and MAC listed. I normally try to set up a test call if it is with a client.”

Coordinating a web-based meeting? Include clear and succinct instructions in your invite/appointment request

Sofie offered, “I think it is common that you work with team members and your executive in other countries. It should not be a problem, nor be inefficient. We need to search for the best tools to make it easy to cooperate at a distance and I am sure that we will see a lot of development in this area.”

Before your first web conference meeting: Do test calls to familiarize yourself with the system

MistiLynn recommends, “Crunch the numbers, the cost savings are huge! Do test calls to familiarize with the system and allow the flexibility of being able to click around in a test environment where you won’t worry about disrupting an active meeting. If the lead executive embraces the web conferencing platform, others are more likely to see it with more credibility.”

Crunch the numbers; the cost savings are huge

I’ll leave the last word on this for today with MistiLynn, who said, “Lastly, have patience as people are learning knowing that it won’t be perfect.”

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