Higher education is a relationship-based industry. This is no more true than on a traditional residential campus.
Much of the work to move projects and initiatives forward happens in conversation. There’s a reason a shared joke in higher education is that no one can work during the day – because everyone is too busy in meetings.
On most campuses, these conversations are face to face. They involve going to each other’s offices, finding a meeting room, and sometimes having coffee. (My favorite one-on-one hangout is a walking meeting).
A face-to-face meeting culture achieves many important goals. There is a ritual in face-to-face discussion, which involves norms of social relations. Meetings are places to work – but they are also places to learn and connect with our colleagues.
The recommendation I would like to make to anyone working in an institution with a strong face-to-face meeting culture is to make room for experimentation with web meetings on campus.
Here I am talking about having a meeting where everyone participates from their office (or from their home or wherever they are). To host a web meeting, you will need web meeting software. On my campus we use Adobe Connect, Blue jeans, Google Hangouts, and Skype for Business.
There are many benefits to turning some of your face-to-face conversations on your campus into a web meeting.
Here are 5:
1 – Capacity building (online education):
We use the same platforms for web meetings that we use for web education. Getting familiar with a web chat with a colleague will make it easier to teach a synchronous course online.
You don’t have to teach a purely online course to want to have an online course. Are there times when you are too sick to come to campus? Or is your child sick? Maybe you have a conference to attend? Our web-based meeting platforms will allow you to teach anywhere. You might even find that you enjoy teaching a synchronous online class every now and then.
2 – Efficiency:
The beauty of web meetings is that they have little overhead. No need to travel across campus. No need to find a room to meet. We spend a lot of time and energy in moving to and from our face to face meetings. Web meetings are efficient in that they can be compressed without the travel time buffers.
Web meetings are also effective because the social standards of web meetings are different. In a web meeting, there is less chatter. There is something about the online meeting format where everyone gets to work. Ideally, the agenda is available to everyone – and someone is leading the meeting. Often times, a web meeting can be actively managed more easily than a face-to-face chat.
3 – Inclusiveness:
How often do we struggle to find a time to meet. We send Doodle surveys. We are looking for free / busy on calendars. Discussions that should take place are suspended.
Because web meetings are more efficient, they can also be shorter. You can do the same in a tightly-animated 30-minute web meeting or in a one-hour, one-on-one chat. Participants are also more likely to agree to an online meeting if they know they don’t need to travel from place to place.
4 – Transcendent hierarchy:
Meetings reify the hierarchy. The participants with the most status and the most power tend to dominate the discussion. They talk the most. Meeting attendees tend to play for their bosses. We nod our heads when the boss speaks, make nonverbal connecting and affirming gestures, and generally act like the monkey-loving hierarchy that we are.
All of these hierarchy-building behaviors are mitigated during a web meeting. There is no head table in an online meeting. Everyone is numerically equal, and a skilled web meeting host can make sure everyone is heard.
5 – Resilience:
Our work in higher education doesn’t stop when we can’t be on campus. Our work follows us home when we are sick or recovering. We might be attending a professional conference, but almost everyone is back on campus – and decisions have to be made.
Developing a convenience with web meetings when you don’t need them will come in handy when you do. You will find that you or one of your colleagues cannot be on campus for a critical meeting. If you want this meeting to be good, you should avoid putting the remote person at a disadvantage by connecting them by phone. Have everyone in the meeting log in from their own computer (or tablet or phone).
The quality of the meeting does not need to depend on everyone sharing the same physical space.
Have you experienced internal web meetings on your campus?