Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why I'm bored with F2F apologists!

‘Face-to-face’ –God I hate that phrase. Don’t get me wrong, F2F has its moments, like sex, although I can think of many, equally pleasurable positions! That’s the problem with the F2F mob – they’re missionaries with only one position, their face in your face. In the pub, out for a meal and in small discussion groups, that’s fine by me. In other words, it’s small intimate groups I like. But F2F on scale isn’t intrinsically good. It can be time consuming, unproductive and boring.

Trainers, with faces like thunder, whine about how it is necessary condition for learning (it isn’t), coaches and mentors (old counselling in disguise) see it as their lifeblood, teachers insist that children learn nothing without them being there, lecturers insist (against all the evidence) that it’s how real knowledge is transferred. Haven’t we all spent far too much of our lives in overlong and unproductive face-to-face meetings. In general, I’d argue that, in lectures, conference talks, training, classrooms and large meetings – being F2F is generally long-winded and unproductive.


There’s some curious contradictions here. Many of those who push the face-to-face argument, usually on social and collaborative grounds, work largely from home and support remote working. OK for me, but not for you, obviously. For a nation that fiercely defends F2F one has to wonder why no one speaks to anyone else in the train, on the bus or on aeroplanes. The English positively hate unplanned F2F encounters. F2F is great, they say, but only under strictly controlled conditions, and certainly not with strangers. F2F is only good when they get paid to tell you things.

The whole sorry F2F brigade present the case as if the world would collapse without it. What they really mean is that their world would collapse, as the recipients of their techniques are abandoning them for more convenient approaches free from the tyranny of time and location. F2F isn’t intrinsically good or bad, it’s just that too much of it is hopelessly inefficient.

Volte face

F2F training companies are now facing the financial music with falling demand and prices. The old model is shot to pieces. Meetings increasingly use conferencing software. In marketing and training webinars have gone mainstream. In the face of mobiles, texting, messenger, laptops, iPads, Facebook, Skype, which all increase collaboration and communication, at the expense of the old inconvenient F2F model, society has gone volte face.


Andy Tedd said...

Much as I want to agree with this article, I am doing more F2F this year than ever. I still haven't got my head round why one of the UK's most virtual of learning professionals is in demand in person, but there you are.

And while 99% of what I am doing in these sessions could be handled in a more efficient way through technology, it is the essential 1% that cannot, that makes the difference between whether what is being learned in the course will make it into the workplace.

I think this is because its about change, and the change that is required, is about using technology to learn more things quicker, and for the people who haven't already worked this out, a person is needed somewhere in the transition.

This reply is more because its an amusing contradiction, than because I think you are wrong becuase, mostly I don't :)

(Tedd Jnr is off to be head of production at Epic - how the unwashed are breaking wind in the corridors of power these days :) )

Rina said...

Beautifully to the point, am learning to write! Thanks again...

Paul Angileri said...

I too have gotten the must-have-F2F pressure in the past. What changes opinions quickly in my experience is the tightening of purse strings and the demand to do more virtually and without travel. As much as I like traveling for work, it is hard to justify setting up events that require travel, even to a company's own sites. Having many global sites where activities can be held helps a lot for reducing costs and limiting the number of people traveling (and losing some work time for the effort), but the costs for hotels, cars, and food are still there.

There is still a small percentage that requires F2F, as Andy points out. What I think may help advance further F2F reductions is more advanced virtual meeting technologies, and maybe 3D environments.

shackletonjones said...

I think it boils down to saying one thing and doing another: people often talk about F2F as being a 'effective learning delivery mechanism' - and the happy sheets will seem to confirm this - but actually the research suggests it is not, as you say. I think what is really going on is that people quite like these kinds of events, and training is by-and-large in the business of making people happy. F2F is an employee benefit - sort of mini holiday camp.

I just wish we would come clean one way or the other: either do the performance consulting thing and have a demonstrable effect on performance or do the networking and fun thing and measure happiness and retention etc...