This 03/27/01 column asks a business audience to consider the ramifications of having a face-to-face meeting without a specific purpose. The article appeared as part of my regular guest column contribution to the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper.
Our company often completes major design projects with companies from Hong Kong to Aruba to San Jose, without ever meeting the clients, or even talking on the phone. To some, this is impossible to imagine. But to us, it’s a given. While it’s great to relax “on Humboldt Time,” we find that it’s most beneficial and cost-effective to do business on Internet Time.
Nobody likes to waste time when their businesses’ profitability is on the line. Yet, so often, we encounter professionals ranging from marketing directors of multi-national corporations to small business owners who can’t imagine working on a project without meeting many times to discuss minor details. And, while face time is vital for pitching to qualified sales prospects; for day-to-day projects, meetings can suck so much work time that any profitability is entirely lost.
The next time someone proposes a meeting to you, think about the time spent driving to and from a meeting, the resources spent making copies, typing agendas, and taking notes. Then analyze what your time is worth before you commit to a meeting. Multiply that by the number of people involved in your project, and the results are astounding.
With just a small learning curve and a new way of approaching the decision-making process, most projects can be successfully completed without ever having to meet face-to-face. Before agreeing to a meeting, the obvious question to ask is: Why? If you must meet, then ask: What’s the quickest and cheapest way to meet? Any meeting conducted via the Internet, software, or a specific device, is certain to be the least expensive and most timely way to meet.
Portable Document Format (PDF) files: Cross-platform documents can be created thanks to Adobe Acrobat, and emailed to anyone. From hundred-page reports, to packaging comps, to engineering drafts, these PDFs can be emailed to colleagues for review, and all they have to do is download the free Acrobat reader to view and print it. If someone wants a hard copy, they can kill some trees and print it out themselves. If they have tons of changes, they can do that within Acrobat, and email you back embedded comments instead of calling you and spending an hour on the phone, or wasting paper, ink, and fax toner. A PDF can be circulated to busy company staff around the world for comments and be back to you within hours for corrections, finalization and distribution. PDFs also serve as valuable visual aides when discussed over the phone during a conference call — another cheap, effective way to hold meetings with anyone, anywhere.
Web Conferencing: There are numerous Internet-Based meeting centers where you can host a “cyber conference” with nothing more than a web connection and some cheap software. You can also integrate your PowerPoint presentation, PDF, streaming audio and video, and live demonstrations of your product. WebEx.com, PlaceWare.com, and Evoke.com all offer relatively inexpensive web-conferencing services like this. They also enable you to instantly share work you have created in a certain software program which your clients may not have on their computer.
Email: Practically anything can be sent over email for review. And, corresponding back and forth via email – when messages are checked and replies sent diligently – can save time by allowing colleagues to “meet” on their own time. It also leaves an invaluable “paper” trail.
Online Collaboration: Utilizing an IntraNet or ExtraNet to facilitate online project collaboration with document sharing, and real-time chat/conferencing is an ever increasing way that smart businesses “meet”. Existing companies such as Visto.com offer such services. Even AOL and Yahoo offer similar capabilities. Or you could implement such Web infrastructure for your organization. Better yet, you can join a group like the Redwood Technology Consortium, which offers these benefits to members for free at www.redwoodtech.org.