Rebecca Thorman wrote today a post that should have been written some time ago: Meetings are not a bad thing. I’ve been thinking about this myself, but Rebecca beat me to it:
We’re running away and far away in the wrong direction. Away from each other and towards nothing at all more grand, preferring the safety and fortitude of our screens more than the uncertainty and uncontrollability of real-life interactions.
[…] The new economy will increasingly require us to work together, to learn through the discovery of dialogue, the challenge of ideas and the experience of being in the same room – after all, the subtleties of a person’s mannerisms just don’t come through in a smiley face emoticon.
Rebecca nails it. This idea of taking everything to the minimalist degree of just you, a computer and the floor, is not positive. Extremes rarely are. No meetings is as inefficient as all meetings. Just because it worked for 37 Signals doesn’t mean it has to work for everyone else. Let’s stop the idolatry, please.
There’s also another problem that I’ve encountered personally in all my ventures when there’s no frequent face to face interaction: lack of accountability. When nobody REALLY knows what the other one is doing, there’s a tendency to dick around (I’ve been guilty of this myself), or at least to do only what was agreed upon, which is another big problem. Nobody ever goes beyond what’s expected. When people are freed from seeing anyone so they can do “real work”, they just stick to their obligations so they can do everything in a very productive 4 or 5 hours and enjoy the rest of the day.
The other reason people don’t go the extra mile when there’s no regular offline conversation (or at least not as much as in traditional systems), is because everyone “knows” that the others are also doing only what’s expected. Nobody wants to be the idiot that worked harder without any compensation (I remember seeing a study proving this a long time ago, but you’ll have to forgive me for not being able to find it).
To conclude, meetings are a good thing. Like everything, it’s a matter of balance. Unless you’re a solopreneur, I guarantee there are big obstacles in coming up with ideas and solutions with people that have different time zones, priorities, activities and work styles. I stand behind Rebecca’s message 100%.