In a study conducted with Fortune 100 companies, and quoted in Sherry Turkle’s book ‘Reclaiming Conversations’, the following statistics about what people do during conference calls are revealing, if not a confirmation of what you have always suspected: 65% of people are doing other work at the same time; 63% do emails; 55% are eating or cooking; 47% go to the bathroom and 6% are also in another call.
I do not have these statistics in my case, but, in the conference calls I participate with clients, I have always suspected that the number of people emailing was higher. It’s a relief to know that 37% are not. Also, I think that close to 50% are taking a nap. I also suspect that a percentage, to be defined by sophisticated research I will undertake at some point when I don’t have so many conference calls, are in the wrong meeting and/or have dialled the wrong number.
Some clients have a default solution on ‘a conference call every week’. When the team is small and they know each other well, this works very well. It could be a refreshing way of not just updating each other but ‘checking in’ the collective tribe. Connectivity, communication and collaboration works well here. But when digital connectivity has been imposed as a structural solution for collaboration with lots of people who are not a tribe ( a group, a team, a collective with a purpose) the risk is that you fool yourself. Sure, something good will come up, but at a cost.
What is interesting is that in my unofficial, unscientific statistics, 90% of those attending these swarmed conference calls, feel very frustrated with the experience. But we keep doing it.
Sherry Turkle ‘reclaiming conversation’ theme, the latest in a series of her publications about the digitalization of the self and other changes in our humanity, is a reminder of the need to go deeper and find ways to achieve that ‘conversation’: home, family, kids, the office, the Strategic Business Unit. That may or may not entail a digital flash mob in the form of massive conference calls.
Digital collaboration will get more and more sophisticated, and technology will offer more and more sophisticated forms. We all will be tempted to use, and will be users. But the more we go in that direction, the more we need to ask ourselves if what we are achieving is digital connectivity or human collaboration. They may or may not go together.
The topic is far from peripheral. It impacts on our human nature that is progressively reshaped. Turkle, MIT professor, trained psychoanalyst, serious social researcher and writer, is very worried. Others, and there is a legion, would say that she misses the point and that the extraordinary connectivity and its potential is short of evolutionary Darwinism achievement. The origin of the Species now contains a chapter on Facebook.
My own view is that Turkle is right, in a minority, and may lose the argument. But my day to day organizational work sees the struggle between the illusion of collaboration and the ubiquitous connectivity, the fallacy of a technological solution for behavioural problems, and the corrosion of the conversation on behalf of the bullet points.