Where have all the people gone? They must have gone on mute.

When was the last time that you attended a business meeting?

If it was a regional one, chances are pretty good that it was by way of videoconferencing or conference call. But what about a meeting called with some of your business colleagues who are located on different floors? Will that be face-to-face or a conference bridge?

Until the last few years, face-to-face meetings were the norm. Whether with friends, clients, colleagues in the workplace, service providers, and so on, the personal contact was both customary and critical. However, our work ethic is rapidly and dramatically changing. Face-to-face meetings are rapidly becoming a fond memory.

Email and texting have replaced what used to be the traditional meetings and telephone calls. Even calling one another via Ma Bell has become a thing of the past. Let me explain.

Today, email seems to have become the primary manner of communication, at least in my world, and texting follows a close second, particularly those in the 40s and under age group.

Rarely do business business introductions or initial contacts occur through actually calling one another, unless perhaps in the telemarketing world, you know the unrecognizable area codes on call display.

Following up personal referrals and introductions, which used to be by phone, or grabbing a coffee together are being replaced by email introductions accompanied by one’s electronic contact information. Although a phone number might accompany the intro, it’s rare these days that anyone actually makes the call. Particularly, when email is so handy. Think about it. For example, Mary messages you via LinkedIn, requesting an intro to Bill and you’re thrilled to make the intro, and so, you get the picture.

The online marketplace offers a wide range of fairly simple to relatively sophisticated product offerings for electronic meetings and that are readily available; often at little or no cost during a no-cost, 30 day trial period, particularly when exploring their features and functions. And so, these electronic or virtual meeting solutions were designed to replace actual face-to-face ones while substantially cutting back on travel and long-distance charges. A couple of clients that have international manufacturing operations have waxed eloquently about the substantial savings, not only in long-distance charges, but in travel and accommodation expenses. Now, the companies are able to call meetings on a more frequent and cost savings basis.

But hold on, the virtuality and face-to-face capability of these meetings also have changed. Initially video conferencing with the actual participants, each of whom would be sitting in front of their respective desktop, notebook, or tablet to looking into the built in camera and engaging in face-to-face video discussions. Some of participants also donning a headset so as to maintain voice clarity. It’s kind of neat with mostly smiling faces showing in the sidebar except perhaps when slide sets or spreadsheets were being displayed and discussed.

However, the novelty of digital face-to-face discussions seems to have worn off as participants started turning off their video cameras and began engaging in the discussion only through the audio feature. Most importantly, they remained as part of the discussion with the mute button turned on! And thus enabling them to multitask while, in parallel, shuffling paper and replying to emails.

Thus, the video conferencing functionality has now been transformed into an audio meeting where the PowerPoint presenter and a couple participants are talking, and you sometimes pitch in, and explain your position when called upon for your opinion. Oops – hopefully, but not often, you have been following the discussion but more likely, you would ask for the question to be repeated as you were not really listening to the exchange. Off comes the mute button, and you are now re-engaged as a meeting participant along with the other people that are, or were, also working away with mute button pressed to the ON position while listening to the discussion.

Whatever happened to face-to-face meetings where after you greeted one another by shaking hands, you could see a real person right there, in front of you, and where you are able to measure their viewpoint on a matter through their body language and up close facial expressions?

Regrettably, that’s all now almost disappeared thanks to the technology that we have come to live with and adore.

Lou Milrad
Lou Milrad
Lou Milrad is a well known Toronto-based business lawyer that assists public & private sector clients with legal services relating to technology licensing and associated legal strategies, IT procurement, commercialization, cloud computing, open data, and public-private alliances. In addition to being the creator and editor of “Computers and Information Technology”, a 4 volume series of IT legal precedent licenses, services, supply, and database contracts and published through the Carswell Division of Thompson Reuters and now into its 16th release. Lou also acts as external General Counsel to each of MISA (Municipal Information Systems Association) and URISA (Urban & Regional Information Systems Association), and for 13 years, acted as external General Counsel to ITAC (Information Technology Association of Canada).

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