We're at a fascinating juncture in the evolution of "the office." There are more remote and contract workers than ever before who are completely reshaping the workplace, while customers and partners are searching for new ways to work together.
The temptation is to blaze forward with shiny new objects that promise productivity as physical walls begin to disappear, but it is actually the ideal time to take a very slight pause and reflect on how and why things are changing. Doing so will help us to understand how and why we should adopt new technologies moving forward. There are so many new bells and whistles coming to the enterprise: IoT, AI, smart devices, not to mention macro socio-economic and cultural trends that impact work. It's a wild time, and taking a quick breath to really evaluate and deploy the right tools and products is the best way to survive and thrive.
Reconsidering the Meeting
One area of everyday work life that is in the midst of a major transformation is the meeting. Love them or hate them, it is obvious that meetings are an important mechanism for people to accomplish meaningful work. But in the face of massive workplace disruption, what exactly constitutes a meeting? Merriam-Webster defines "meeting" simply as "an act or process of coming together."
In today's world, this meeting of the minds occurs in a myriad of ways, with technology accelerating the means by which people easily engage and providing never-before levels of flexibility and choice in how to collaborate and make decisions. Simple-to-use technology, coupled with the changing sensibilities and expectations of the digital savvy workforce (the freedom to work how you want and where you want) is fueling impressive growth in this area.
In the world of big data and IoT, there is reference to the '3 V's of data'—the explosive growth in data is driven by a combination of the volume, velocity, and variety of data being created across machines, people, and processes every day. All that data provides opportunities to create business value by bringing together the relevant data through automation and machine learning.
It strikes me there is a parallel phenomenon occurring in the world of meetings. The Volume, Variety, and Velocity of meetings are also accelerating, and are driven by disruptive technologies such as Cloud/SaaS models, simple-to-use apps, HD video, high fidelity audio, ubiquitous wifi networks, and changing demographics of a workforce that is extremely comfortable using the latest tools to become more productive. In today's world, people think nothing of joining ad-hoc situational meetings, formal meetings, and traditional internal and external huddles, as well as non-traditional meetings like video chats embedded in their business workflows—regardless of where they physically reside at the time. Let me explain.
Volume: More Often
Meetings, the grease for business decision-making and collaboration, have grown significantly over the last 20 years and continue to accelerate. I went in search of an updated estimate for the number of meetings happening, and in the United States alone, it would seem we've surpassed 55 million meetings PER DAY! Accelerated growth isn't being triggered by traditional one hour long face-to-face meetings in physical rooms, or even traditional meetings that have been enabled with audio and screen-sharing capabilities. Instead, the very definition of meetings has evolved to include ad-hoc as well as formal meetings, and those that engage with key stakeholders to achieve multiple objectives beyond the simple sharing of information. The sheer volume of meetings adds up quickly because there are so many more types of meetings being used to achieve different ends—and the access points are literally at your fingertips.
Variety: In Many Forms
Beyond the traditional scheduled meeting in a conference room, the sheer variety of meeting types is pretty mind-blowing. There are meetings being held from desktops and mobile devices, in collaboration spaces, cafes, airports, trains, home offices, and along the beach—and often all these meeting "access points" come together at a point in time via cloud meetings platforms that can accommodate the busy lifestyles of all types of employees, partners, and customers. "Meetings" have morphed into video conference meetings, phone calls, those with presentation screen-sharing needs, but also interactive all-hands meetings, stand-up meetings, interactive webinars, fan engagement, and situational meetings triggered by a problem on a production line. A professional's desk or home office has transformed into their central meeting hub because technology has enabled access and engagement from anywhere, however it is required. And the more simple, fast, and engaging the app is to use, the more natural it is for people to see (and use!) it as an effective productivity tool.
Velocity: Of Varying Lengths
Parallel to the variety of meetings, we are also seeing a wide-ranging mix of velocity of meetings. It is now common to have ad-hoc five-minute meetings with a small group to ensure the team is on the same page for a project, 15-minute daily check-ins, as well as 30-minute alignment or information sharing meetings. One size doesn't fit all, and technologies are fueling the ability to meet the needs of how all parties want to engage, collaborate, and meet—whether on video, traditional web conferencing, or voice only. This "meet from wherever" mentality, combined with the right technology platform, means the team or individual doesn't have to wait for all parties to be in the same place or even in different office environments—friction is taken out of the engagement process so the actual work can get done faster and more effectively, in whatever format works best for the situation.
Moving Meetings Forward
Much has been made of the digital transformation initiatives that are high on the agenda of CIOs over the past several years. In the meetings, collaboration, and communications arena, digital transformation is a natural fit for the demographically diverse, tech-savvy modern workforce, as well as the changing definition of the workplace. Employees are having meetings anywhere, with mobile and intelligent spaces that fit with their lifestyles. These trends will increase the speed of adoption across organizations, particularly for those tools that are truly simple and engaging to use.
As we sit in this unique period, in which the concept of the office has changed, likely forever, companies should fully consider how their communication and collaboration tools need to evolve for the short- and long-term. Exciting developments are on the horizon. I believe the day is near when digital assistants will attend meetings on our behalf, with a summary of the important information that pertains to our job function. Apps, rooms, and meeting platforms will get smarter, allowing meeting organizers and participants to effortlessly flow in and out of discussions without disruption. And this is just the beginning.
This is great stuff! Now, let's really consider it and plan for it as we make IT buying decisions and deploy new solutions across the enterprise. In the case of meetings, the volume will continue to increase, and as long as we can use technology to help with the variety and velocity, we will retain the productivity and cultural benefits of group work even in the face of great change.