How to End the Culture of ‘taking it offline’

James Richardson talks about taking this offline and how to save time by changing that cultureJames Richardson, Senior Director of Product Marketing a QlikTech, outlines how to bring collaborative decision-making to meetings

How many meetings and conference calls have you sat through where you heard someone say ‘let’s take this offline’? How often do you truly come to a conclusion or make a key decision following a long meeting or conference?

I’ll wager that your answer to the first point is often and to the second question, rarely.

That’s because we seldom have the information or data available that we need when in decision-making mode or meetings. All too often information is shared via PowerPoint presentations, paper handouts or Excel-based spreadsheets. And, by the time the meeting is taking place, the information is out of date or is in such a static form that we cannot manipulate it or correlate it with other data to find alternative scenarios to help in the decision-making.

That is when we hear the infamous phrase ‘let’s take it offline’ to allow us to go away, play with the data again, and to then reconvene to discuss the same issue but with newly correlated data and information to inform the decision-making.

Research has shown that workers cost US employers $134 billion in lost effort with meetings making up 47% of that wasted productivity. It isn’t any better in the UK where officer workers apparently spend a year of their lives in useless meetings. So, why prolong these meetings or even force workers to have yet another meeting by having to ‘take it offline’ before we can come to a conclusion?

Well, there’s a fatal flaw when it comes to how analytics are used. While it may help us analyse our business performance and find opportunities for growth or even spot anomalies, the issue is that the numbers that the analytics provide have put a stop to further discussion – the numbers ultimately rule. It’s hard to run an organisation or competitive company without the numbers to back up your decisions but the problem is that humans distrust data if they haven’t manipulated it themselves. Maybe they’re concerned about the data quality or the way it has been calculated, or don’t like its transparency.

Often, it can even mean that certain workers want to tweak the numbers, to come to the preferred outcome. While the ‘take it offline’ phrase often means to continue the discussion online in a series of lengthy emails, one definition of the phrase is to avoid discussing dirty laundry in public.

However, in an increasingly online, connected, collaborative, mobile and social world (in business as well as in our personal lives), there is no place for ‘taking it offline’. It is anti-collaborative, implies that the existing data isn’t relevant or useful to the current meeting’s agenda and by ‘taking it offline’, businesses are harming their organisation.

So, the simple solution is to ensure that the data being used for discussion in (pertinent) meetings is up-to-date, can be played with in the meeting and collaborated on by all participants to ensure a speedy conclusion is attained. With all the technology available to ensure that data analysis can be carried out live in-line (mobile, social, collaboration), dirty laundry can no longer be hidden and faster conclusions can be reached, putting an end to the lengthy and numerous meetings and an end to the culture of ‘taking it offline’.

As companies become more global by nature and tight budgets mean international travel is restricted, there’s an even greater reason to enable collaborative decision-making and end the curse of ‘taking it offline’. Namely to overcome physical and regional limitations. Imagine if everyone in a conference call could have the latest reports available on their preferred tablet and could play with this data in a collaborative manner for all participants to feed into. Not only would conference calls become more productive but decisions could be taken in that timeframe as more alternatives will have been explored.

Companies could become more competitive as they’re able to make decisions faster than their peers, organisations would be more efficient and the time wasted on multiple meetings instead of one would be drastically reduced, allowing workers to be more effective in their day jobs. And no doubt happier about not having to sit through long meetings.

In today’s world there is no ‘taking it offline’ as we are permanently connected. And, increasingly, anyone who takes their work or their decision ‘offline’ will be considered outdated, slow, cumbersome and potentially even guilty of having something to hide.

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