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Face to Face Meetings Matter

FaceToFaceMeetingsMatterFrom government agencies to educational institutions to business organizations, all of our various industries and the organizations that compose them have at least one thing in common: Meetings. Simon Schwartsman, a scholar of networks and geographies offered the following observation:

“Historically, face-to-face meetings have played an important role in the social, and especially the political life, of Western and non-Western societies.”

While Schwartsman’s claim is certainly well-founded, we continually hear that many of our meetings are “a waste of time.” In fact, the list of ailments associated with organizational meetings is quite long, and usually produces comments like the following:

  • Our meetings are never on time—they start and end late
  • Our meetings are “dull and boring”
  • There are too many disruptions in our meetings
  • Decisions never get made in our meetings
  • Only certain people talk during our meetings
  • We go off target in our meetings
  • People lose interest during the course of our meetings
  • From a simple cost perspective, business meetings are excessively costly given the benefits derived

In light of such opinion, more and more organizations are switching from face-to-face meetings to other forms of conferencing, such as teleconferencing, email and other informal communications. Yet, in doing so, we risk losing important team-building, productivity and inter-organization communication.

Why Meetings Matter

Meetings are the way that information and knowledge travel through an organization. With all of our ability to instantly communicate with one another, nothing supersedes the information transfer that takes place when gathering physically, in one another’s human presence.

Meetings also provide the opportunity for an organization to discuss and determine how business, industry and technology trends are going to impact them. With multiple points of view and perspectives present, the best understanding of how an organization will weather changes like globalization or a labor shortage can emerge. Such problems are simply too complex and overwhelming for any individual to solve single-handedly, but when put to discussion in a meeting, an appropriate course of action can usually be conceptualized. Meetings are one of the main ways we collaborate.

Finally, meetings are critical in keeping various individuals in any organization connected. Through meetings, organizational culture is often established and reinforced. Group conferences foster a sense of team-work and camaraderie, often leading to higher employee retention and great productivity.

EmployeeTimeInMeetingsMeetings Come At A Cost

Of course, the meetings we hold—and we hold a lot of meetings—come at an organizational cost. According to the National council of Statistics, 37% of employee time is spent in meetings. MIT Sloan Management, in a publication title “The Science and Fiction of Meetings” reported that we attend 11 million meetings per day across the US – and this does not include the informal meetings that happen in hallways, in break rooms or in individual offices.

MIT Sloan Management also reports that participating individuals think that between 25-50% of those meetings are wastes.

Even if they are, indeed, a waste, such waste costs a company in many ways.

In fact, researcher Jay F. Nunamaker and his colleagues, reported that in 1996 one Fortune 500 company estimated that ineffective meetings cost them $75 million dollars annually. Some innovative individuals are even capitalizing off of this sticky reality by creating free online tools like Meeting Miser, an algorithm designed to estimate how much any given meeting actually costs an employer based on attending employee salary.

Poor and ineffective meetings also cost organization morale, productivity and efficiency.

What Sort of Solution Is Needed?

What we are presented with, then, is a conundrum of sorts. We know that real organizational magic happens in face-to-face meetings. In fact, GLOBAL Meeting Professionals recently published a bulletin through MIX magazine outlining some of the psychological and economical reasons that organization meetings matter. After listing observed benefits such as “breakthrough thinking” and “stronger networking ties” they summarize simply:

“Even as budgets are expected to fall this year, face-to-face meetings are still considered to have the highest ROI of all marketing and organizational tools.”

In order to truly get the most out of our meeting mileage, what is needed is not a complete dismissal of face-to-face meetings or their importance, but rather a reevaluation of how and why we meet.

Creating More Value for Business Meetings

The overall value of any organization’s meetings is really a simple function of costs and outcomes. Anything that lowers the cost of a meeting while boosting the productivity of that meeting will increase the value of the meeting.

Experts offer the following suggestions on ways to make face-to-face meetings more efficient:

I. Prior to the meeting

  • Decide whether a meeting is necessary.
  • Decide who and how many attendees—too many people may be problematic under circumstances where decision-making is important.
  • Define the purpose and/or objectives of the meeting.
  • Prepare an agenda—including topics for discussion, presenters for various topics, time allotment for each topic. Make sure there are not too many topics to cover within the designated time period.
  • Choose an appropriate meeting time.
  • Circulate information to those who will be in attendance—include objectives, agenda, time and place, background material if any.
  • Indicate that participants must be on time and have read the materials prepared.
  • Assign roles to participants (e.g. note-taker, facilitator, etc.)
  • Decide on who sits where
  • Make sure that coffee, tea, snacks are ordered
  • Insure that the location will be in physically pleasing and hospitable location with good acoustics, air conditioning, convenient, etc.
  • Make sure that adequate resources are available (e.g. laptops that work, flip charts, pens, etc.)
  • Prepare readable name tags if necessary

II. Holding the meeting

  • Welcome members to the meeting.
  • Introduce members to each other, if they were not known previously
  • Identify who is in charge of the meeting and any special roles taken by individuals
  • State the purpose and/or objectives of the meeting
  • Review the time frame allowed for the meeting
  • Do an attendance check or head count.
  • Determine the decision-making process if necessary.
  • Make sure that discussions are not monopolized by only a few people.
  • Summarize the major decisions made (if any) or action plans resulting from the meeting.
  • Insure the level of confidentiality needed.
  • Terminate the meeting if it is over.

III. After the meeting

  • Prepare minutes and distribute as soon as possible after the meeting
  • Follow-up on action items.
  • Debrief in terms of what made the meeting effective or ineffective and ask for feedback from participants.

The Role Of Technology In How We Meet

In addition to taking measures to make our meeting practices more effective and more efficient, many companies have begun to consider replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual meetings in order to cut down on costs.

While technology has made great strides, and continues to expand in applicable effectiveness, numerous studies suggest that virtual meetings can still never really equal the many positive benefits of face-to-face meetings.  Deirdre Johnston, the Professor and Chair of Hope College’s Communications Department speculates reasons for this:

“With technology, there is always a barrier or filter that is not present in face to face. As the level of intimacy decreases, so does perceived accountability, responsibility and perhaps full honesty.”

Even among those same individuals who reportedly despise many meetings as a “waste of time,” IMEX Research shows that:

“only approximately 1 in 3 respondents (35%) accept the argument that electronic participation via video-conferencing or web-cams can become a low-cost and time-efficient substitute for face-to-face meetings, and even those felt this could relate only to minor, smaller, or standard meetings.”

In short, face-to-face meetings manage to create a level of synergy that virtual meetings still cannot replicate.

Yet, in these face-to-face meetings it is still necessary to incorporate new technologies that support the way we prefer to meet and conference. Unfortunately, many of our meetings have yet to embrace the shifting learning styles of today’s, more millennial workforce. Similair problems are faced in the educational sector, with regards to the ways our educational institutions must shift their teaching styles. Most of our meetings still operate within a “sage on the stage” paradigm. That is, with one person broadcasting information to the meeting attendees. In such situations, many of these exact attendees may already be using their mobile devices or laptops, either covertly or overtly, and often for purposes unrelated to the meeting. This type of disengagement is what makes meetings unproductive.

DiscontinueBadMeetingPractices

Instead, by effectively incorporating more interactive technologies and practices into our meeting spaces, we will likely find our meetings to be more productive and efficient.

Such practices might include:

  • Prepare and post online all materials to be referenced – indicate advanced reading and research expectations
  • Bring your technology (laptop, mobile device) and expect to use it – set expectations on use
  • Build in skill training and practice (not just technology) for the participants so that they walk away knowing something they didn’t know before
  • Poll people for opinions on important questions – they respond with their technology to give immediate results
  • Increase collaborative small group discussion time of important questions, idea storming, working on solutions to problems
  • Build in sharing out time of work individuals or small groups have completed – expect all work to be posted online for others to see and benefit
  • Use new tools such as wikis for group responses, twitter for sharing the meeting activities and info with others, blogs for individual writing time, discussion boards for topical idea sharing

Of course, to incorporate more of this interactive technology into our conference habits, we have to have the space and equipment to support it.

VersaTables Solutions:

Conference furniture that supports interactive and engaging meetings is exactly what VersaTables specializes in providing. Our high quality, American made conference tables offer collaborative and adaptable spaces that effectively and usefully incorporate needed technologies.

Rev ConfDownview Rectangular Conference Table

Consider, for instance, our Downview Rectangular Conference Table. Rather than relying on traditional meeting room tables, this product offers a complete solution for multi-purpose rooms. Its unique design is versatile and complimentary to any plaza or organizational scheme, allowing it operate as a flexible meetings space.

Additionally, the down view feature allows easy access to computer use, without blocking the visual flow of meeting attendees. As individuals can use technology to collaboratively discuss organizational needs, their productivity is greatly enhanced.

DV ConfRevolution Rectangular Conference Table

Our Revolution Rectangular Conference Table also allows for easy use and flexible spacing. This conference table features rotating computer screens that can be used during a meeting, or flipped safely back down into the table when not in use.

A great body of research suggests that when meeting attendees can interact with representational artifacts (something that has been pulled up on a computer screen) they can achieve a greater sense of cohesiveness and understanding with regards to the tasks they need to complete. In their article “Sharing Tools of the Trade,” authors Jon Hindmarch and Christen Heath describe this phenomenon:

“These artifacts become critical sites of collaboration through a process so subtle and ingrained we don’t even realize it’s occurring.”

In order to again become more effective, the spaces that we meet and conference in must shift and evolve. In this way, taking the initiative to plan for and provide effective meeting spaces supported by technology is just as important as creating the rest of any organization’s work environment.

Buy American Act

BuyAmericanAct MainPurchasing quality goods is a prime concern for consumers today. With the advent of trade agreements, including the Buy American Act and the Trade Agreements Act of 1979, products may or may not have the quality control exhibited in previous years due to production in less technologically advanced countries. Animated TV cartoons of the past might have shown a chair breaking under the weight of a skinny Olive Oyl and it would have made us laugh. However, most of us don’t wish to replicate that scene with our own office or home furnishings. And, certainly, we don’t want a similar scene playing out in our own government’s facilities.

Additionally, common thought holds that a governing body has an obligation to support their own economy. Enter the “Buy American Act,” a policy generally followed by all government agencies when selecting ergonomic office furniture for their buildings and employees.

What is the “Buy American Act?”

Passed in 1933 by Congress and signed into law by President FDR, the Buy American Act, requires the United States government to prefer U.S.-made products in its purchases.

In determining what exactly qualifies as American goods, the place of mining, production and manufacture are evaluated. The 110th Congress added a reporting requirement to this provision. Under P.L. 110-28, the head of each federal agency is required to annually report to Congress concerning product procurements.

This act refers specifically to the acquisition of ready-made products. There are different provisions in place for supply contracts and construction contracts.

The “Gray” Area

Some companies, such as IBM, have fought against the Buy American Act, which details that every part of a product intended for purchase by government agency should be made in America. IBM argues that it is nearly impossible for them to detail where all of the ITT raw materials come from and that it would be silly to restrict government access to cutting edge technology. In IBM’s case, further laws like the 1979 Trade Agreements Act have made it possible for government agencies to procure IBM products.

Sometimes though, companies are not as forthcoming about their ability to track where products were created, and sometimes under the guise of the Buy American Act they might even overcharge our own government for items not really manufactured on our soil. Unfortunately, leading organizations that sell office furniture  are not exempt from such unethical, and unpatriotic, behavior. Consider these facts from The Huffington Post in June of 2011:

“In the last six years, Staples Inc., Office Depot Inc. and OfficeMax Inc. have paid a combined $22 million to settle government claims they violated the act. In 2008, the Department of Justice announced that W.W. Grainger Inc. agreed to pay $6 million to settle claims the company overcharged the government and provided it with Chinese and Taiwanese products in violation of the Buy American Act.”

Government employees and consumers, in general, should be able to completely trust the companies they work with. At VersaTables, when we say that all of our manufacturing, raw materials and products are 100% USA-made, we mean it.

How Does the Trade Agreements Act Impact the Buy American Act?

Passed by an Act of Congress on July 26, 1979, and signed by President Jimmy Carter, the Trade Agreements Act was legislated in hopes of fostering an open world trading system and governing trade agreements between the US and other countries. More specifically, the Cornell University Law School lists the purposes of the TAA as follows:

(1)   to approve and implement the trade agreements negotiated under the Trade Act of 1974 [19 U.S.C. 2101 et seq.];

(2)   to foster the growth and maintenance of an open world trading system;

(3)   to expand opportunities for the commerce of the United States in international trade; and

(4) to improve the rules of international trade and to provide for the enforcement of such rules, and for other purposes.

The TAA super-ceded the Buy American Act and it may, at times, restrict the purchase of goods and services for federal contracts, since products must be manufactured or “substantially transformed” in a “designated country.” Those 45 designated countries span the alphabet from A to Z, and span the globe from Afghanistan to Zambia.

WhereAreVPManufacturedWhere are Versa Products Manufactured?

Keeping the TAA in mind, it’s possible to purchase desks, tables or computer carts, and not realize they were manufactured in Burkina Faso or Kiribati.  Or, maybe even to go to the trouble to buy ergonomic computer furniture to discover it’s made in Tuvalu.  Versa Products, however, are:

“… founded on the basic American principle of producing high-quality products at a great price. Now, eco-conscious methods combine with smart design taking this thriving manufacturing company to the next level … Quality American manufacturing is a tradition of ours. We only use the best American-based tested raw materials. We then proudly put in the workmanship to create high-quality furniture at competitive prices.”

We create great US-made products all the time, every time.

OutstandingServiceWhat Does That Mean for the Customer?

At Versa Products, the customer is in control. Because nothing is outsourced, quick access is available for customer questions. Should a replacement part be needed – for anything from carts to ergonomic office furniture, home furnishings to elevated beds – there’s no waiting for parts to arrive from Timbuktu (Timbuktu is located in the country of Mali, and yes, Mali made it onto the TAA designated list). Outstanding service is the byword for Versa Products customers.

Additionally, because VersaTables is honored to serve many of our important government agencies and facilities, we give these organizations our word that our products are 100% made with the highest in American materials and craftsmanship.

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