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In an Era of Free Teleconferencing, Is There Still a Place for Face-to-Face Meetings?

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, January 20, 2010

Meetings for national groups used to be quite costly affairs. There was the expense of travel and accommodations, not to mention the lost time from work. Over the past decade or so, teleconferencing has helped reduce many of these costs, but clear, effective teleconferencing still required some expensive equipment, software, network access and people that know how to set these things up.
 
Until recently, Webcam-delivered videos and pictures were jerky affairs with less-than-stellar resolution and clarity—not the stuff of professional-level meetings and presentations. Things have changed, however. I was recently reminded of this by a post from a colleague, Rob Paterson, who documented perhaps the most disruptive force we've seen in the communications space—low-cost, or even no-cost Web-based services such as Skype.
 
Rob lives on Prince Edward Island, his location of choice, and connects with clients and project teams all over the globe. He just documented how he recently joined a two-day meeting in St, Louis, Miss.— about 1,500 miles away, at no cost all, via Skype.
 
The ability to teleconference across the globe, with crystal-clear sound and video, for free, has enormous implications and a disruptive effect on the industry. Agents and brokers can meet with carriers with no travel to the home office required—freeing up their valuable time to devote to sales.  Field personnel such as claims adjusters could also maintain productivity by having face-to-face meetings with their home office managers without being diverted from their travels. IT teams can interact and compare notes across different data sites.
 
Is there still a place for face-to-face, in person meetings? This is an important question to keep asking, because there are situations in which face-to-face contact is still important, as the insurance industry is built on trusting relationships:
 
•    Professional society meetings, educational meetings and study groups.  The ability to meet and exchange notes is vital, and details or serendipitous information-gathering may get lost over time-limited online channels. Also, regular in-person interactions with other members or candidates with certification and credentials organizations provide networking and growth opportunities that may get missed in online engagements.
 
•    Incentives and motivational meetings.  We can't skimp on the reward meetings for top producers. (Meeting online in a virtual Hawaii just wouldn't have the same motivational effect). 
 
•    Motivational meetings for internal employees. Tom Peters, author of numerous management books, credits good leadership to a simple principle that should be practiced every day in the workplace: MBWA, or “management by walking around.” That is, executives and managers need to get out and engage with employees, and listen to what they have to say. The good ideas—and good will—generated will deliver far greater dividends than any amount of computer processing and bean counting. Get to know what employees are thinking and what they’re up to, and let them know that you’re available to help.
 
But for day-to-day business, all those trips in the car and to the airport may no longer be as necessary. Who likes airports anymore anyway?

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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