In an earlier post (In Praise of Meetings) I ranted about the unfortunate fact that, although meetings undeniably suck, they’re also irreplaceable for certain kinds of decision-making. As a subrant, I griped about the fact that having people “dial in” to meetings is a lose, since the communication bandwith is just too low (this observation from a person who is usually at the meeting in question, not dialing in). The combination led me to be dubious in general about working remotely and telecommuting (at least if you have the kind of job where you need to be at meetings).
A recent post of Jeremy’s (Where Almost Doesn’t Matter) woke me up a bit – possibly I was blaming the victim? Jeremy argues (citing Andrei Broder) that the problem isn’t necessarily that people are dialing in rather than physically present – it’s that some are present and some aren’t. The people who are actually there are doing a lot of nonverbal communication which leaves the dialed-in people out in the cold. The proposed solution is to have meetings be either all-present or all-virtual (as Andrei says was the practice at IBM). This is one of those simple, brilliant, obvious-in-retrospect ideas.
Jeremy more generally proposes that maybe “where” doesn’t matter anymore, especially when you’ve got phones, wifi, Treos, etc. I dunno. It sounds like the people he cites are doing a lot of roving around, which is made possible only by their electronic connectedness. If so: why do they have to rove around at all? Why aren’t they all working from home all the time, and saving their gas money? My hunch is that what being unchained from your desk makes possible is talking to more people face-to-face in more various places, which is really about greater personal control of the all-important Where (and the all-important face-to-face contact), than it is about making Where disappear.