Friday, October 15, 2010

Engagement in face-to-face meetings

A helpful post from Susan Nurre on the IAF forum points to an article on that in turn points to a Cornell University School of Hotel Administration white paper (free registration required) on "The Future of Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face," by Christine Duffy and Mary Beth McEuen of Maritz*. I'd never thought about looking at this area of literature (hospitality studies), but it might actually be fruitful for my research.

The article focuses mostly on "large-group meetings and events", which are not my area of focus. But the concept of "engagement" is threaded through the article in ways that are applicable to the (primarily small group) kinds of phenomena I'm looking at, tying them to specific organizational benefits:
Amidst the phenomenon of ever-increasing information overload and ever-decreasing speed cycles, attention is scarce and fleeting. In this environment, the lack of a focused and attentive human mind is one of the greatest limiting factors in effectively executing business strategy.

and (citing John Medina):
... when people are engaged with information in multi-sensory environments, they are more likely to remember the information (compared to single-sense experiences) and creatively come up with solutions.

Some interesting (and true in my personal experience) observations on the disadvantages of virtual meetings for particular purposes:
Participants stated that the significant temptation to multi-task during virtual meetings was distracting and had an impact on the meeting objectives being achieved. While this may not be a significant problem when the goal is to share information to which people can refer later, it is a real problem when the goal is to initiate something new, whether that is new learning or a new set of priorities that require a shift in attitude and action.

Since my day job is working primarily on the design of new user interfaces, I have seen over and over that getting designs off on the right foot really does require face-to-face interaction. It somehow does not gel right without that.

* Way back in the beginning of my career, when I lived in St. Louis, I almost did a video and writing project with Maritz. It would've been my first freelance project and was quite exciting. It didn't pan out (for reasons I don't recall).


Sandy Schuman said...

It looks like you might be interested in Guy Cortesi's research, which compared communication channel (face-to-face, audioconferencing, and videoconferencing) and task type (convergent, such as decision-making, and divergent, such as idea generation).

PS I haven't run into you since your Workshop on Strategies for Collaborative Modeling and Simulation at CSCW in 1996. Glad to see you're still at it!

Al said...

Thanks Sandy! I'll definitely check that out.

Defintely still at it... in the final stages (writing up) of a phd at the Knowledge Media Institute, Open University UK. Here's a recent journal article that describes much of the research. Also Compendium is still alive and well.