Jessica Lipnack wanders from her blog Endless Knots to offer a couple of interesting pieces at Industry Standard about virtual work — “its benefits, its pitfalls, its resisters, its committed participants.”
In March, she tracked the evolution of a“geek doctor”, slow to awake to the opportunity, who now says that:

Virtual working… is not only adequate but in some instances absolutely necessary.
Case in point: Recently, for a few dreaded moments, the hospital’s clinical data system went down. In the not-too-distant past, Halamka’s inclination would have been to call all the relevant parties together in person to figure out what went wrong. Instead, everyone — meaning the critical folks in security, network operations, and the like — remained at their desks, where they had access to key information, and jumped onto a conference call. The system was back up in 20 minutes. It would have taken that long just to get people in the room, Halamka noted.

Excellent!
Then, in May: When face time is a matter of life and death | The Industry Standard

“Many people have been killed going to meetings in Iraq.” It was an offhand remark made by a US military advisor in a casual conversation about virtual work — its benefits, its pitfalls, its resisters, its committed participants. Until that moment, it had never before crossed my mind that traveling to a face-to-face meeting could be lethal.

Later in the article, she asks:

What about you? Could you discharge less CO2, experience less stress, put yourself at lower risk, and make it cheaper all around by staying put? Last fall, The Content Economy, a Swedish blog, picked up on a suggestion on my blog to develop a checklist before traveling to the next face-to-face meeting. Here, for example, are a few questions from the checklist:

  • Do you need a day or two of continuous work together?
  • Do you have to share “things” that would be difficult to experience at a distance, like touring a facility or using a piece of equipment?
  • Have you calculated the true cost of the meeting in terms of direct expenses and personal wear-and-tear?
  • Have you done a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the meeting’s contribution to CO2 emissions?
  • Do you sometimes travel because you like it or get the feeling that you are important for doing so? Is the meeting you’re planning one of those?

Very useful, and something we’re trying to practice (to reduce the footprint of advising companies on reducing their footprints). On the other hand, virtual isn’t the answer to everything. Here’s the comment I posted:

This is great, Jessica, but the list of reasons for f2f doesn’t include the hard-to-calculate value of building relationship: the sociality, the chats during the breaks, the drink after the meeting, the early morning hike, not to mention the side chatter and body language that nothing virtual has the bandwidth to convey.
I’m all for virtual (for all the above reasons, plus climate change and personal wear and tear), but I keep finding that sometimes nothing can replace face time. Sampson’s flow chart [“Michael Sampson, a New Zealand collaboration specialist, who answered the question, ‘When Do We Need Face Time?’ with a flowchart“] gets close to including that, but doesn’t quite get there.


Jessica Lipnak has a great series of posts in the last few days on the value of virtual meetings, how to think about virtual meetings, how to decide when to be virtual and when face time is key.


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