Meetings have been more or less the same for decades. A pre-selected group of people with a big pot of coffee. Together with a pre-established agenda, in a central location, and at a pre-determined time. But in recent years, meetings have been changing. A silent revolution is unfolding and we call it ‘paperless meetings.’ Without everyone being aware of it, the meeting of the future has already begun.
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I remember how I realized, when I held the first e-reader in my hands in 2003, that this device would have a great impact on meetings. Now I know that that impact is much more extensive than I realized at the time. I will explain why.
Just as it has often happened in the past thirty years, you can see a silent revolution taking place with the theme of paperless meetings. A ‘rapid revolution,’ if you will. And this is only the beginning. The meeting of the future will look very different from that of yesterday.
It is good to determine what we mean with paperless meetings. Paperless meetings is an established concept that puts us on the wrong track. The emphasis is on ‘paperless,’ which reduces the importance to just paper savings. Of course, that is a substantial theme; after all, paper savings lead to less felling of trees and CO2 reduction. Very important! (We also like to make paper savings visible, take a look here.)
Nevertheless, in our opinion, paperless meetings are mainly about a new way of holding meetings in which meetings promote good decision-making.
We are already having paperless meetings, more or less…
We sometimes talk to people who say that they ‘are already having paperless meetings.’ What they mean by that is that they send the agendas, minutes, and meeting documents via e-mail. With some imagination, you could call that paperless. However, in that case, many participants still need to use a printer.
In our view, paperless meetings are: an integrated solution that includes the entire meeting process: planning, preparation, discussion, decision-making, communication, follow-up, and (digital) archiving.
The meeting of the future in three phases
You can divide the development of paperless meetings into roughly three phases.
Phase 1 – automation – past
The first phase is to automate the meeting process. Meeting participants receive an iPad with an app. This contains the agenda and all related documents. This saves lugging around bulky files, avoids confusion over different versions of documents, and saves the secretariat mind-numbing work, and saves a lot of time for many meeting participants.
Now that themes such as security and management of mobile devices are well regulated, many organizations are currently taking the first step: automating their meeting process.
Phase 2 – integration – present
The second step is the integration with the surrounding environment. Meetings are not an isolated process; they are part of a broader process in which the meeting serves to achieve decision-making regarding information that comes from existing systems and that still has a long way to go after the meeting. Within the organization, but sometimes also outside of it.
Therefore, the second phase of paperless meetings is the integration process into the organizations.
The paperless meeting solution is linked to, for example, Document Management Systems (DMSs), File Tracking Systems, or Enterprise Resource Platforms (ERPs).
Linking to surrounding systems is what makes paperless meetings a success. Or not. Many organizations that have switched have fallen into platform traps, set up by different suppliers. The chosen meeting solution turns out to be a standalone system, which does not link to the rest of the IT environment or only with a lot of customization.
For organizations who are currently considering switching to paperless meetings, the greatest challenges are in the field of integration. It is not easy to make the right choice in that area. There is a lot of chaff under the wheat. Even so, the most important question is not ‘what is the right choice for now,’ but ‘what will the future bring, what is the right choice for later.’
Phase 3 – transformation – future
The key question is: what is the future of paperless meetings? For me, its direction is clear as day, but we will need to explore the exact details with our customers.
Letting go of time and location
In the past, time and location were pre-determined. The meeting would not start until the chairman said so. Agendas and documents needed to be sent well in advance.
Thanks to built-in communication options, letting go of time and location has become a fact. Within a good solution, a participant that places a comment in a meeting document can share it with other participants. For instance, a question can be easily sent back into the organization (with the right PV solution). This means the meeting starts even before the chairman says so. Once the secretariat sends out the documents, the exchange of ideas and questions begins. This means the agenda can also be narrowed down by handling certain items before the meeting.
Adding an external participant to part of the meeting is also becoming easier and easier thanks to paperless meeting solutions. Possibly through multimedia, so that the participants do not even need to be physically present.
You might say that the meeting of tomorrow has already begun. Or maybe even the meeting of next month.
However, this is only the beginning. There is a good reason why at OurMeeting, our promise is ‘Better decisions in less time.’ Behind the scenes, we are working hard on the next steps.
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Are you curious about the developments we have in store? Please feel free to contact me for a personal conversation. Are you a customer of OurMeeting and do you have some ideas? Please feel free to contact me, we are happy to involve you in our developments.