Back in May, Donald Clark told us Why I’m bored with F2F apologists! In principle, I’m in agreement with Donald. If you were to stop every car on the motorway (I don’t suggest you do this, because it would make you very unpopular) or interview every passenger on a typical train or plane, then you’d quickly appreciate how much energy is wasted on people travelling to training sessions, conferences and meetings that could easily have been accomplished online. On the other hand, I differ from Donald in that I believe there is still a strong case for people to meet together face-to-face upon occasion. This can be quite hard to pin down, so I set about creating my own list:
- The first and most obvious reason is that you live or work in close proximity and so there is very little reason not to meet face-to-face. If you work or live in the same building, campus or street and there is a meeting space available then, fair enough, take advantage of the situation. Most meetings don’t fall into this category.
- The internet may have multimedia capability, but it doesn’t meet all our sensory needs. Some activities require physical touch, smell or taste. Apart from the obvious examples, which shall remain unsaid, think of sports, meals, social drinking and so on.
- Some activities require us to interact with a physical object or place which cannot be adequately or economically simulated, e.g. equipment, musical instruments, buildings, vehicles.
- Sometimes a group of people need to interact together with full body language cues. An obvious example in l&d would be role play of interpersonal situations.
- It pays to be face-to-face when there is an extended amount of sustained and complex problem-solving to be done. I’m talking half day or more, when headsets become tiring and screen space is too limited to easily see all the necessary information, such as. maps, plans and lists of issues.
- In my experience, there is no substitute to being face-to-face when you need to win over a reluctant audience in real-time. Online it would be just too easy for them to pay little attention and disengage. In these situations you need constant eye contact and to be able to read every body language cue.
- Lastly, there is the obvious problem for those who work in busy offices; when you’re online, you can still be easily distracted by emails, telephone calls and visitors. Locked away in a meeting room, it is usually possible to get some peace.