When to Hold Webmeetings and When Not To Bother

A comment on a recent post about facilitating webmeetings and conference calls raised issues about the value of webmeetings in the first place. While the vehement tone of the post suggests a team leader who could use a little facilitation training, I completely agree with Pharma1 about one thing: you should carefully decide when to hold a webmeeting and when a simpler method of communication will do.

In an earlier post I gave you a fancy matrix for deciding which tool to use for what kind of remote team communication. It's based on the concept of Richness Vs Scope, (and well worth checking out) but for the sake of simplicity here are 4 questions to ask yourself before firing up a webmeeting and sending out the invites:

  • Is it training or just data transfer? If you're sending a project update or the monthly numbers it's just as easy to send a copy of the file and have people print it out for reference while you're on the phone. When the visuals require a lot of explanation, or you want to show people a computer application or how to do a process then they'll appreciate both the audio and visual input and the chance to see the process demonstrated.
  • How long has it been since they've seen your face (or each other)? In his comments, the poster did make a great point- that webmeetings should be rarer events than simple conference calls. That's probably true. But if the team hasn't had a chance to connect on a human level lately then one webmeeting a month is not a bad plan-particularly if you use webcams to remind people that nagging manager is actually a live human being.
  • Do you want to capture feedback and assessments? Many webmeeting platforms allow you to capture data like polls and create chat transcripts. This information is very useful when brainstorming or calling for input from the team. It's often easier to write comments or vote anonymously than chime in on a call, especially if your English skills aren't as good your teammates' or you have strong personalities on the team that can intimidate others. Capturing that data makes a well-run webmeeting superior to just another conference call.
  • Do you want to collaborate and get a finished product faster? On a conference call, collaborating usually means one person working on a document and everyone else calling out suggestions. Then the document gets emailed out for further feedback. On a truly collaborative webmeeting platform people can see changes to a document in real time, and you can even control who physically inputs the data. People can respond to the changes immediately.
The lesson here (and it's a good one) is that webmeetings are like any tool. They're great when used effectively (rich, multi-media communication) and a pain in the neck when used poorly ( when it takes forever to set up and log in and the information isn't worth the time and trouble).

Is your organization helping people learn to make those decisions wisely and then run them well? When do you decide to hold a webmeeting vs something else and how does that work for you?

photo by flickr user makelessnoise CC 2.0