No Fly Zone

My husband—also a federal management consultant—was away last week on business travel. In between feeling sorry for myself about having to manage the morning routine alone and feeling sorry for myself about having to manage the dinner/bedtime routine alone, it occurred to me that we actually have it pretty good.  After years on the road, it turns out that starting our family around the same time GSA’s conference agenda was imploding was well-conceived.

The combination of budget pressures and an intense desire to make front page news performing a silly skit, federal agencies began cancelling meetings and conferences left and right. To make it official official, many budget officers quickly came up with policies and guidelines that make it very unappealing to go further than your local Panera for an offsite meeting. 

The sad story of the financial impact of travel restrictions to airlines, hotel and conference facilities, and cities like Las Vegas and Orlando are well-documented (mostly be them).  I think if there is anyone out there whinier than USAir, it has to be the army of event planners who are bored to tears these days planning lame in-town, ½ day meetings with nothing more that ice water and hard candies provided.

In spite of this massive shift, there has been hardly any research or writing done on the programmatic impact. How do fewer or no trips impact employee connectedness and productivity? Most of us have anecdotal observations but I don’t know that any themes have emerged. One plane-hopping client has been seriously depressed now for years. Others delight in staying close to home and have even forged some new projects with staff around the office.

Of course, the need plan and share status hasn’t gone away.  What form and function has taken it’s place?  This article cited a surge in videoconferencing.  Obvious. I know. But I’ll build on that observation just to say this.  With this massive, highly predictable shift in “how” we meet, you’d think there would be a surge in consultants offering insights into HOW to no-kidding make videoconferencing productive. If the knowledge is out there, the people with those skills have been keeping the secrets to themselves. 

We seem to treat video exchanges like any other meeting. I suppose this is the case because we don’t know any better.  Unfortunately for all of us who have to endure these events, I don’t know that the same rules apply.  It doesn’t seem like enough just to invite some people, slap a couple slides together, and make sure the GoTo Meeting account is paid up. There could be a lot more thought invested in how the agenda is structured, what type of topics are good to include and how the discussion is facilitated, room is arranged, who sits where, what duration is optimal, etc.

I see two opportunities here that might consume some of that time we’ve won back not waiting for delayed planes…. 1) measure impact and 2) optimize interaction in the void.