A Rationale For Moving Meetings Online

    January 17, 2006

How many meetings do you attend that could be offloaded to a wiki or some other online mechanism?

The kneejerk reaction to such a suggestion is that online community is reducing the amount of face-to-face contact we have and that’s a bad idea. We’ve been hearing this since message boards first gained popularity.

I’ve never bought this argument. I’ve met more people online whom I have since gotten to know in the real world, people with whom I never would have dined or worked had I not gotten to know them first in the virtual world. Using the asynchronous online world as a surrogate for meetings also lets people participate without having to travel or block out inconvenient time slots.

Now there’s a new argument for shifting face-to-face meetings to a team wiki, a team blog, or some other online channel. According to research from the University of Minnesota (Duluth), meetings have a deleterious effect on employees. The study found “a general relationship between meeting load and the employee’s level of fatigue and subjective workload.”

The study, reported in the journal, journal “Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice,” was based on a test of two theories:

  • Employees experience increased “negative effects” when the number of meetings they have to attend increases
  • Employee experience increased “negative effects” when they have to spend more time in meetings.

“Negative effects” refers to fatigue and worsening moods. The authors of the study – Alexandra Luong and Steven G Rogelberg – arrived at the notion of “the meeting as one more type of hassle or interruption that can occur for individuals.”

The Guardian has a complete article on the study, including some of the early research that informed the project. (For example, a 1973 study established that typical managers spend more of their time in meetings than doing anything else.)

Of course, some meetings will need to be held just because they’re the most practical way to accomplish the goal that led to the meeting. But this research could serve as an argument to reduce the total number of meetings and shift the work to a project wiki or other online productivity tool.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.