Timothy Leary, the American writer and popular counter-culture figure, once said that “In the future, physical meetings will take on sacred, almost mythic proportions.” It’s a quote we use in “The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work” and one Paul Miller and others at DWF have found ourselves returning to every now and then when we’ve been discussing the evolution of the Digital Workplace.
Now, I’m not sure that the physical work meetings that I have with my work colleagues at either the Digital Workplace Forum or the Intranet Benchmarking Forum feel ‘sacred’ or quite take on ‘mythic proportions’, but I certainly look forward to them.
Redefining the physical workplace
What I find fascinating is how I have found working predominantly virtually has completely flipped my concept of physical meetings from being an unwanted distraction to something I really appreciate.
Once a month some of the ‘staffers’ and some of the ‘freelancers’ (I belong to that group) connected to Digital Workplace Group meet at the WallaceSpace environment in the center of London for our Team Day. Apart from a (usually very tasty) lunch and some diarized meetings involving the management team, nothing is planned out. You don’t necessarily even have to be working on Digital Workplace Group projects.
And I find myself really enjoying the day – it’s great to catch-up with colleagues, have a bit of banter and hear about the initiatives that are on the horizon. It’s relaxing, sometimes productive, sometimes less so, occasionally inspiring, always positive.
Interestingly it’s also a pattern I’ve found myself naturally replicating with some other clients and colleagues and enjoying just as much. For example I have occasionally met another of the DWG freelancers at the Westminster Hub, one of the fastest growing of the co-working space chains, or met another colleague down at the South Bank for coffees, wi-fi and work.
Most significantly I have also done some client work for a London-based legal services firm who now allow me to sit once a month at a spare desk in their offices and do some work, not necessarily for them. I’ve signed a NDA and I don’t sit in any practice areas so risk considerations are covered off.
How meetings used to be
So now that I am working the majority of my time from home (with the occasional afternoon spent downstairs at the High Holborn branch of Starbucks) these ‘days at the office’ feel very different than they did before.
In my ‘former’ work life I tended to find days in the office, particularly those with loads of meetings were quite unproductive, and we often seemed to be having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. I wasn’t against meetings - I’ve never truly believed in Jason Fried’s declaration that “Meetings are Toxic” – but with a heavy workload they can be tiresome. For example during one particularly busy time I remember I actually had to invent an excuse why I couldn’t come into the office just so I could avoid sets of meetings and catch-up on my backlog of work.
Eight reasons why I now enjoy meetings
I believe there are several reasons why I find these physical world touch-points with colleagues so valuable.
- Getting out more. Working digitally can be a lonely lifestyle so obviously having company is good – whoever says you need to get out more is right.
- Change of scenery. I’ve always found working in a variety of locations is refreshing and good for my overall productivity. When I work in one place for too long I start to get into a rut and find excuses to distract me from what needs to get done.
- Social event. There is absolutely a social element to all these working days, which is occasionally slightly detrimental to productivity, but that’s understood upfront.
- It’s my choice to go. Not being obligated to being there is absolutely key. I have always found that feeling like you have to do something – such as struggle into an office every day – can have a major effect on perceptions of enjoyment. Exercising my choice to go and also knowing that others have exercised their choice to go is a positive context for the day.
- Awareness. You get a great sense of initiatives that are coming up on the horizon or the issues that are concerning the business. Part of this is through conversations as people who haven’t seen each other may say “what are you working on” whilst some is through ambient awareness – hearing snatches of conversation – for example.
- Collaboration. There are sometimes impromptu opportunities to collaborate. This is perhaps cited as a major benefit in the co-working space and whilst I have found it occasionally happens, I’ve actually found this tends to happen more online.
- Better working relationships. I find the meeting physically helps to strengthen the relationships with co-workers who I may predominantly work online with. You get to know the context in which they work, the meaning behind things they say, you’re able to share humor more easily. It leads to a richer experience. With people I work with in the US who I may not have met in person, I find voice to voice interaction has a similar effect.
- Opportunities. It reminds people you are there! I believe it has helped me pick up work by interacting on these types of days, either through demonstrating skills, showing enthusiasm, sharing ideas or simply being in the right place at the right time.
Whilst different individuals, roles and organizations will get different things out of meetings and being in the office, I hope the rise of the Digital Workplace may help others to re-new their relationship with the Physical Workplace as a place they actually quite like going to.
You can see this in the rise of the co-working movement, developments in office design and initiatives like the opening of Google’s Tech City campus in London aimed at start-ups. And a better relationship with your office may also result in a better relationship with work itself and that has to be good for everybody.