Building Organizations via
Electronic Conferencing (page 1 of 1)
By Jillaine Smith, PeaceNet
is ideal for any organization that currently has the need for conventional
meetings or conferences. It is particularly valuable where an organization's
staff is located in different cities, or where staff is in field
offices or constantly traveling. It overcomes the difficulties of
distance that often make management and communication difficult.
Conferencing, participants are able to carry out their normal daily
routine and take part at a time that best suits, or is most relevant
to them. Deadlines are still met -- each participant is fully brought
up to date with the activities of all other participants every time
an article in Management Review (August 1989), most companies that
use computer conferencing report travel costs are cut 50-to-75 percent
because of the significant reduction in the number of face-to-face
meetings. Savings on project development can run as high as 90 percent.
on telephone bills are often in the 10-to-35 percent range, since
electronic communication is more succinct, can be done in off-peak
hours and eliminates telephone tag.'
Instead of Face-to-Face Meetings
Computer Conferencing has a number of advantages over physical meetings
or conference calls. Convenience is the most obvious benefit with
the added bonus of huge cost savings. Examples of both include:
- No money
and time spent on travel and accommodations
- No expensive
- No jet
time for consideration and deliberation
to involve more people
- A broader
and more democratic process
- No coordinating
of time schedules
- No time
zone restrictions (phone calls)
time for reflecting on comments made and responses to them
- The process
of writing is a powerful tool for organizing one's thoughts
domination by one or more personalities
- A written
record of the dialogue is created.
We don't assume
computer conferencing will replace physical meetings. When the latter
are required, however, Computer Conferencing can enhance meetings
in several ways. For example, it can be used to plan the agenda.
Unplanned and unfacilitated meetings are usually unsatisfying, while
a good agenda makes for a successful meeting. Computer conferences
are ideal settings for fine-tuning agendas; they can be discussed,
modified and often many issues can be resolved before the meeting
has even begun!
meeting facilitator or chair posts a proposed agenda as a new topic.
Participants add comments as responses. The facilitator collects
the responses and posts a revised agenda as the final response prior
to the actual meeting.
projects. As a result of agenda settings, research topics often
come up. Perhaps someone needs to be contacted for certain information.
If this didn't come up until the meeting, much time would have been
EXAMPLE: A topic
can be assigned to the person responsible, who then posts updates
Prior to Meetings. Informed decision-making requires familiarity
with a variety of materials. How often have you been at a meeting
where you didn't get the materials until the last minute-- hurriedly
put together and passed around at the beginning of the meeting!
Sharing materials online prior to a meeting avoids expensive printing
costs (and time!) and allows decision-makers and participants to
familiarize themselves with relevant issues in advance.
computer conferencing can improve face-to-face meetings by providing
forums for better planning and preparation.
of Electronic Mail
mail has increased the pace of communications, it has limitations
in that email messages are inherently unorganized and provide no
structure for discussion. In addition, exchange of email among a
group of people can inadvertently leave out a necessary individual.
Conferencing discussions can proceed faster than email since the
delay induced by a serial sequence of messages and responses does
not exist. Conference information is organized by topics; new topics
are easy to create, and responses can be appended to any topic.
All topics and responses are available for review by any participant,
and because all messages are automatically labeled with time and
date, development of the discussion is easy to follow.