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Unforeseen Circumstances addresses the changes that companies must make to prevent crippling losses in the wake of sudden events. This timely and crucial book takes executives through an array of alternative strategies and new technologies in vital areas such as:
• Employee safety and security: in-depth interviews with security professionals on facing both traditional and unconventional threats; plus new developments like paperless mail, fingerprint and voice recognition, retinal scanning, and other biometric identification techniques
• Operational strategy: organizational changes; reducing reliance on plant- and infrastructure-based workplace models; rethinking sales, marketing, and project management; minimizing costs and risks of air travel; succession planning.
• Communications and information: technologies for virtual and teleconferenced meetings, webcast presentations, and desktop-based training; plus advances in remote data storage, secure information transfer, and wireless applications.
Companies that change with the times will not only be prepared for any eventuality, they’ll also keep employees happy and business running smoothly for years to come."
Introduction: The Changed Landscape of Business
Part 1. How Can You Keep Your Employees Safe?
1. A Safe Employee is a Productive Employee
2. Conquer Travel Fears with Virtual Meetings & Training
3. Use Webcasting to Sell Without a Handshake
4. Keep Projects Running Smoothly with Project Management Software
5. Keep Employees Connected from Home when There’s a Crisis
Part 2. What If Your Employees and Customers Are Afraid to Open the Mail?
6. Paperless Direct and Transactional Mail and Mail Room Security
7. Keep the Money Flowing with E-Billing and E-Payments Systems
8. Find an E-Mail System that Keeps the Lines of Communication Open
Part 3. How Can Your Protect Your Place of Business and Your Data?
9. Site Security from Procedures to Biometric Technology
10. Cut the Cords and Keep Your Network on Line
11. Secure Your Data Here, There, and In-Between
12. How to Protect E-mail: The Big Vulnerability
13. Using ASPs and MSPs to Decrease Your Dependence of Physical Plant
14. Preparing for the Worst -- Succession Planning"
Your people don't want to fly, and you don't want them to fly. Yet they must attend meetings and training with people in other cities-staff meetings, event-planning meetings, project meetings, conferences, professional development, and software training. For a long time you've been thinking of cutting back on travel and the inherent expense and inconvenience. Today that desire has become imperative and your people are motivated to make Web-based meetings and training work.
Remote meetings and training have many advantages. There are also a few disadvantages. In some cases, remote meetings are the only kind of meetings that can happen. The only alternative may be a conference call without any visual aids. If your company is publicly traded, you might be considering using virtual conferencing software as an accompaniment to your quarterly reports and for analyst calls. You might also be looking for ways to make your message clearer to journalists. A demonstration of your product combined with a brief presentation is likely to convey your message more clearly than just a phone call. Once you start evaluating the technology available to replace many of the face-to-face interactions or voice-to-voice interactions on which businesses have come to rely, you'll wonder what took so long?
What Took So Long?
It was only a matter of time before meeting and conferencing tools became mainstream. We've been moving toward virtual meetings and conferences since the adoption of e-mail and instant messaging (IM). How much of your job can you do without face-to-face contact? The popularity and success of working from home attest to the fact that much of the work that many people do can be done without the office environment. Many people are far more productive working in an environment without the distraction of others. Combine working from home with instant messages, and you have the potential for vastly improved productivity.
Advantages of Virtual Meetings and Training
Virtual meetings have many advantages over other meetings. They can overcome some inherent problems with face-to-face meetings-namely personality conflicts or overbearing personalities. Other advantages include convenience, productivity, and the potential for everyone's participation.
Virtual meetings are a big winner from the perspective of convenience. When it is time for a meeting, participants need only click over to the meeting location. When the meeting is over, attendees can return immediately to productive work, rather than travel back to their offices. Home-office workers don't need to be in the office for meetings, and, more importantly, meetings do not have to be planned around home-office workers' days in the office. In addition, part-timers and even employees on leave whose input is required, such as women on extended maternity leave or employees on family leave, can participate without major inconvenience. Consultants-and even, when appropriate, legal counsel-can also attend and be paid only for the hour they attend, rather than for a full day plus travel.
Meetings Versus Conferences: What's the Difference?
This chapter treats meetings and conferences as two different things. Meetings are events where multiple people convene and multiple people will likely have something to say about the subject under discussion. Conferences or training, on the other hand, tend to be dominated by a single person or a small panel, with most of the attendees simply listening, watching, and occasionally asking or responding to a question. In short, meetings require that the software facilitate many-to-many interaction, while conferences and training require that the software facilitate one-to-many interaction.
The leadership of most organizations thinks in terms of purchasing one software package to deliver all virtual get-together activities, whether those activities are meetings or conferences. Vendors of both types of solutions offer software with the same features, and most claim that their solutions meet both types of needs. In fact, different packages excel at different things. Because different users will be using each, it is not necessarily obvious-except perhaps to IT-why both kinds of users should be using the same software.
I don't recommend that you purchase either kind of software, unless you will be using it everyday. Most organizations should consider using a hosted solution. Many of the solutions discussed in this chapter are available either as a hosted solution or as in-house software.
Productivity. There's no question that virtual meetings and conferences fit into a busy schedule better than face-to-face meetings. In-person meetings have a way of stretching to fill the time they were scheduled to take. Meetings often meander until the last five minutes, when someone takes the floor to reiterate the action points from the meeting and schedules the next meeting. Of course, the requirement for leaving your desk to walk down the hall, drive across town, or hop a flight is gone, so all of the meeting time during which often nothing useful was accomplished, is suddenly available for productive activities.
Conferences, on the other hand, are 90% waiting and 10% learning. The problem is that conference organizers can sell sponsorships for the continental breakfast, the coffee break, the lunch, and the soda break, not to mention the room for checking your e-mail, and the cocktail parties and dinners. They have a financial interest in keeping you busy between the sessions, which typically are not sponsored. They want you meeting with the sponsors or on the trade-show floor.
Think of a three-day conference that you pay to attend. You might spend between 6 and 12 hours actually listening and learning over the three days. Depending on whether you're there to sell or buy, there is additional value in evaluating possible solutions or meeting with prospective customers, but conferences are really only defensible from a sales perspective. Everyone else there is engaged in highly inefficient activities that could be more efficiently accomplished through other avenues.
Balancing Personalities. Some people are better at meetings than others. They know how to ask the right questions and how to listen. Other people use their physical presence to intimidate colleagues into compliance-or at least into silence. For the first type, virtual meetings won't offer any advantage, but for the second type, virtual meetings can change the way the entire group interacts. Body language plays no role in communication at all, so attendees are constrained to comment on what is said-by whoever has the floor-and what is typed into the chat tool that typically accompanies the voice and visual display.
Personality conflicts-an unavoidable part of many offices-don't play as large a role because face-to-face interaction is not required. Comedians and those who disrupt meetings with negative comments don't have a forum for their antics. In short, meetings center on the topic of the meeting, instead of the trip to the meeting, the location and climate of the meeting, and the other attendees of the meeting.
Attendance Rates. Meetings, particularly meetings during which important decisions need to be made, have a way of getting postponed. Key participants have conflicts, can't get across town, or have flights rescheduled. Attendance at online meetings is likely to be better simply because less is required for those who are supposed to attend.
Attendance at online conferences and training sessions is a mixed bag. It can be either a pro or a con. While attendance at a conference or training sessions-once the individual has traveled to the event-is not difficult to guarantee, attendance at remote training or a virtual conference is more difficult to secure. On the one hand, it should be easier to get people to attend because of the convenience. On the other hand, anything else that arises in the office is likely to keep an attendee away. The conference or training simply has difficulty competing for the attention of the attendee, when compared to phone calls, the needs of coworkers, or pressing deadlines.
Punctuality. It's easier to be on time for an online meeting or conference for all of the reasons outlined previously. It's also easier for someone who is running late to attend-rather than not show. Someone who joins a meeting in progress can catch up by reading through the log, which details what has already been discussed. Rather than that conversation being lost forever, the conversation may be recorded and available for perusal by late arrivals.
Organization. An online meeting is not necessarily better organized than a face-to-face meeting. It's just that in a face-to-face meeting, the meeting leader has an easier time bluffing the organization. If a person shows up for a physical meeting with nothing but a yellow pad, he can run the meeting with the reasonable appearance of organization. The meeting may wander, but something may come of it.
That same meeting online would probably be an embarrassment to the organizer. Online meetings require more preparation in advance, which is usually an advantage to the attendees. Rather than calling everyone together to catch up, an online meeting requires the leader to move the meeting forward. This style of meeting is contrary to the collegial, facilitated meeting of the 1990s, but facilitation is slow. For meetings where feelings are discussed, I don't recommend a virtual meeting. For meetings where action is discussed, virtual meetings are probably a good fit.
For conferences or training, organization is probably not going to improve. Few people would think of speaking at a conference or offering training without carefully preparing materials in advance. However, those who would prefer to wing it at an online conference will find it far more difficult to do so convincingly.
Automatic Log of Meetings. Good virtual meeting or conferencing software permits maintenance of a log of what is discussed-in the chat tool-and what's created on the whiteboard. Being able to review what was said, suggested, and committed to-in the words of the person who said, suggested, or committed-is a big improvement over relying on notes taken by one or more parties, which may conflict. After a meeting, everyone can refer to a copy-usually the same copy centrally located-of notes from the meeting.
For conferences, the ability to go back to the notes, the presentation, and the dialog from the chat could be invaluable. How much easier is it to make contact with another participant when you can review the notes from the chat, identify who asked a question relevant to the solution your company offers or provided a correction to the answer given by the speaker, and contact that person via the information he made public as part of his online conference nametag?
Printouts of Whiteboards. Having a copy of what was created on the whiteboard is also a nice advantage of online meetings over face-to-face meetings. Although some whiteboards can print to paper, most offices don't have them, and, even then, not everyone will get a copy of the notes made on the whiteboard.
Disadvantages of Virtual Meetings and Conferences and Strategies for Compensating
Of course, virtual meetings and conferences have disadvantages as well. Disadvantages include: requirement of a meeting leader or facilitator, requirement of a phone line in addition to a Web connection for all attendees, difficulty enforcing attendance during the meeting, and loss of facial expression or body language to indicate lack of interest or understanding.
Difficulty of Enforcing Attendance. With face-to-face meetings or training, you know pretty clearly when someone isn't engaged in the meeting. At a minimum, you know that no one is composing a report unrelated to the meeting, reading the paper, or checking e-mail. With online meetings, conferences, or training, it's difficult to know that everyone who is registered or signed in is actually paying attention. Most office workers know that e-mail or sports scores are just an Alt-Tab away, or that the meeting software can be split-screened with e-mail software so that one can sit in on the meeting while getting other work (or play) done.
Enforcing both attendance and involvement at meetings is not all that difficult. Meetings should be kept short and to the point. Rather than scheduling a meeting from 1 to 2 pm, schedule it to start at 1 pm and make clear to attendees that it will end as soon as the work that needs to be performed is completed.
For meetings, conferences, and training, an effective strategy for enforcing involvement is to use the polling feature of the virtual meeting or conferencing software frequently. Every five minutes or so ask a question that can only be answered by those who have been paying attention. The organizer should write questions ahead of time that reflect the kind of content that will be discussed in the meeting or covered in the training. At transitions, attendees should be polled to ascertain whether anyone is not following along.
For meetings, nonparticipation will only be a problem if someone who is clearly out of step with the group is chided publicly for sleeping on the job. In most professional settings, public embarrassment is the strongest motivator for staying tuned into virtual meetings.
For conferences, the speaker will probably not want to quiz the attendees, so much as determine that the pace and content of the presentation is appropriate and everyone is still engaged. This can be accomplished by providing a way for attendees to indicate at any time that the pace is inappropriate and by soliciting such feedback periodically.
Requirement of a Phone Line Plus a Web Connection. Virtual meetings and conferences typically require attendees to have both a phone line and a Web connection. For attendees dialing in from home offices or remote locations, this may be a problem. There are virtual meeting packages that deliver voice over IP (VoIP), and if you have remote employees who will need to participate in meetings and don't have separate phone lines, then you may want to include the ability to handle VoIP as one of the criteria.
The two-line requirement is less of a problem for meetings than it is for marketing Webcasts, when you don't necessarily know who will be in attendance and what kind of technological capability they will have. Chapter 3 discusses that in more detail. If you are meeting with people overseas-particularly individuals in Asia who are working from home, where far fewer people have multiple phone lines to their homes-then VoIP should be on your must-have list.
Excerpted from Unforeseen Circumstances by Alexis D. Gutzman Copyright © 2002 by Alexis D. Gutzman. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 28, 2002
This book is really great. Gutzman covers a lot of ground, but never leaves the reader behind. She explains everything so that you could later explain it yourself to your own staff -- when you tell them what you want. Even biometrics was made clear -- the tradeoffs between types of technologies. Fast read. Very timely. I highly recommend it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.