Yesterday I could have arranged to travel to three face-to-face interviews for articles I am writing. The travel alone would have taken 3.5 hours. This morning I’ve just finished a 20-minute telephone interview that would have required a further 1.5-hour journey. Now when there are deadlines to meet, I just can’t spare that time.
I agree that face-to-face meetings can be valuable and enjoyable; I always enjoy guided tours of businesses I write about. Sometimes it is necessary to get a really thorough understanding through a visit, but this isn’t always the case. It’s like the TV news reporter standing outside 10 Downing Street on a dark, cold, rainy night relaying the news that nothing has happened back to the studio presenter who is probably more informed on the topic: they add nothing, but expend a lot of energy being there.
I’ve been conducting telephone interviews and doing research by email for many years. When working at British Airways, I used to compile a weekly report based on telexed information from cities around the world. Often it was all I had to go on.
Now I know that some people are wary of talking on the phone, even though nearly everyone working has a mobile these days. I was lucky enough to have excellent telephone training when I worked at British Airways, so I’ve always been comfortable talking to anyone remotely.
Sometimes when I suggest a telephone interview, people sound reticent. I like to give them some advance warning to get their thoughts together. When we come to do the interview, what is important is to make the subject feel comfortable, to ask questions that draw information out of them, to listen to their answers and build on these to ask further questions. Before they know it, they are talking away enthusiastically and telling an interesting story: just what I need for an article.
I can’t understand why some people don’t use the phone more but insist on travelling to meetings. I complete most of my work through remote collaboration. In fact, we never meet 90% of our clients, but still develop long-lasting relationships with them.
I am sure that many businesses and other organisations could improve efficiency and save time through better use of phone, internet and other communications technology, especially when transport costs are soaring.
Is there still a need for face-to-face meetings? Yes, and there always will be, but I think a lot more could be accomplished remotely.
What do you think?