Last Updated Apr 7, 2011 11:30 PM EDT
I talk to HR Shiever in today's podcast, as well as psychologist Jacqueline Saad who says part of the issue is that Aussies love a good chat and that's something they want to hang on to. That's all very nice, but are we missing out on business opportunities as a result?
HR Shiever: Absolutely. Because of the demographics of Australia with really widely dispersed work forces and, increasingly, people working outside of the office, I think that it's really impacting the productivity of Australian companies by insisting on always having face-to-face meetings. As you said, Australia is actually lagging behind most of the other developed economies around the world for embracing collaboration technologies, which really help companies get over that productivity drain of face-to-face meetings.
Dobbie: Yes, and it's quite pronounced. Very different than the rest of the world. Seventy-seven percent of Australians believe seeing each other is crucial to encouraging participation compared to just 29 percent of Germans. It's not a few percentage points. This is quite a marked difference.
Shiever: No, it's definitely a cultural difference here. I think Australians like to eye each other and really like to understand each other's body language and get those visual cues. I think what it means is that Australian businesses are probably spending a lot more time travelling, a lot more expense, and it's impacting the productivity of the economy here.
Dobbie: And yet a lot of what they're craving can be done with technology. If it's a question of non-verbal communication --- I think we all know that if you're talking to someone over the phone, you don't know what facial expressions are going on, you can only imagine. But with video-conferencing these days and high-definition video-conferencing, you really can see the nuances in the facial expression. It's as good as being in a meeting, isn't it?
Shiever: Absolutely. And I think in the US, where people actually meet more often face-to-face than Australians, I think the big difference is that they are embracing these collaboration technologies at a higher rate. And what this means is that while they still may have face-to-face meetings, and a first meeting may be face to face, that second, third, and fourth meeting with someone can be done with web conferencing technology. For instance, Citrix Online's got a meeting technology. We just announced that we're also supporting video with our HD faces, and so as you said, you're actually able to have an online conference. It's voice. It's sharing desktops. It's actually interacting and looking at people over video. And for the second, fourth, fifth meetings, those ongoing meetings, this type of technology is perfect for enabling companies to be more productive. You can have many many more meetings online than you can by travelling across the city or getting on a plane and going to Melbourne.
Dobbie: So Jacqueline, what's your take on this? Why are we reluctant to make this move? Is it a social thing, or are we just stuck in our old ways and we're just stuck in our old ways, and we're just not prepared to move on?
Jacqueline Saad: Yes, it does seem to be that we are stuck in our old ways. People are reluctant to change, and they're embracing this old way of meeting face to face because it's meeting psychological needs on multiple levels. They feel that they can eyeball the person as HR mentioned. It's about building trust, rapport, exerting control over the environment as well, and it's sometimes ego-centric driven. So people feel like they can assert their status. If you're perceived to be in a meeting all the time, that makes you look really important. So I think this is sort of the old way of how we approach business, and people are still clinging onto this because they may not feel that there is an adequate replacement to have these psychological needs met. But if we are to start looking at other ways of doing business, and as HR mentioned, there's no reason why you can't meet face to face at that first meeting and build that rapport with the person, but to have a video-conference would be more than suitable for the second, third, and fourth meetings.
Dobbie: But why is Australia so different to other countries? You mentioned the ego aspect of it. Are our egos down here a bit more out of control than the rest of the world?
Saad: It could be. I think it's a reflection of our laid-back friendly nature. We really do enjoy a chat. I think we're very people driven. So I think traditionally this is what we've clung onto, and we've been reluctant to let go of that.
Dobbie: Well HR, what I've found interesting in the survey is that in these meetings body language is very important to us, but it seems it's even more important to us than the French, and the French are all about body language. What's going on here?
Shiever: I think it is surprising actually. That statistic surprised me as well, but again I think of what Jacqueline said. Australians are friendly by nature. They do like to meet. They like to get out of the office. They like to meet face to face. They like to have a chat about non-work things, and I think that's part of it. But I would say that the thing that Australia really needs to understand and Australian businesses need to embrace is the fact that global economy is changing. You need to be able to interact with customers, prospects, vendors, suppliers outside of Australia. And the global economy is moving quickly. Asia is becoming much more important, and I think embracing these types of technologies is only going to help Australian businesses to really reach out to new markets and to engage in the global marketplace at a much higher level than they are today.
Dobbie: Right. Well, is that part of the issue then, Jacqueline? Are we a bit too closed off from the rest of the world here? Do we think that we can ignore the rest of the world? We'll just have face-to-face meetings and carry on as we have before?
Saad: Perhaps it's a slight naivety. You have to be constantly reinventing yourself to maintain the competitive advantage, and when we are looking at the effects that having all these face-to-face meetings has on an organisation, we really need to be looking at different ways of doing things. And by embracing real-time online meetings we can actually show results back to the organisation's bottom line. So when we're looking at productivity, having an organisational culture that's aligned with the company's brand, looking at time management and how that's used, looking at how it impacts on job satisfaction for employees. It really starts to stem down into a whole other area, and it's not just about having a face-to-face meeting, but that sort of cascades into other areas within the organisation then impacting the worker productivity, which then impacts on the bottom line for the organisation.
Dobbie: Yes. The productivity is a big thing. I've got a big confession here to make. When I worked in large corporates in Australia (and we are increasingly working long hours in this country --- longer and longer hours), I used to sometimes go to a meeting because I was so exhausted I thought I could put my feet up and give my brain a chance to relax. At least, I seem to be somewhere even though I'm doing nothing at all. I think there might be an element of that going on, isn't there?
Saad: Absolutely. It really is all about perception. So I've seen in a lot of corporations where people might be having meetings four out of five days a week, and that also is very difficult if they're quite senior staff and the junior stuff have found that they're not accessible or available. But some of those senior staff, it could be just a way of, as you said, sort of being out to remove yourself from the office and have a bit of down time. Just because it's so chaotic and it might be a lot of work.
Dobbie: Yes. Harder to do in an online meeting, where it's all to do with productivity. So HR, what's the upshot then? How do we get out of this malaise that we have in Australia?
Shiever: I think the good news is that there are a number of factors that are leading Australians to embrace this technology better. We've been selling our web conferencing technology in Australia for the past four or five years, and we've really seen an acceleration over the last 24 months of Australian companies adopting this kind of technology to be more competitive, to reach outside of their local markets. And there are Australian companies today that are making a difference with this. This technology is viral in a way, right? You're essentially, once companies begin to adopt this, more and more people will be attending. They'll see the value of this, and they'll be able to move on and adopt it themselves. We have companies like Medibank Health Solutions that are using our Go-to-Meeting technology, and really what they're doing is enabling an entire mobile workforce. They actually have people out in the field all across Australia and New Zealand. They're using this technology to drive their business, and they couldn't do it any other way.
Dobbie: So we're just slow to adopt. It's not that we're not going to adopt. It's just that we're behind everyone else basically.
Shiever: Yes, I think we're behind the US and a lot of the mature markets in the world, but absolutely every opportunity to embrace this technology and to get the upper hand. It's not too late. There's a lot of room to grow. The adoption of these technologies is early in Australia, but certainly we are seeing some markers that are showing that Australian businesses are going to be embracing this in much greater numbers.
Dobbie: Well, the real test is summer's right around the corner --- summer's really here now isn't it? So that's the real test. Where would you rather be? Travelling into work every day or running some of these meetings at home? I know where I'd rather be. HR and Jacqueline, I appreciate your time today.
Saad: Thank you.
Shiever: Thank you very much, Phil.