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Meeting room C

New country (well, returning to the one I left). New city. New department. New commute.

My relocation went pretty well, all things considered, although Hans’ confidence in my ability to get everything to the right place was a bit optimistic. I had to buy a new hairbrush, as mine is in storage somewhere. I also underestimated the change in weather, and don’t have any suitable shoes to wear with skirts now London is suffering a cold snap. Still, that’s an excuse to buy some new shoes!

While I’m in my temporary accommodation, my commute is horrendous. It’s not easy to sleep on the trains, as the announcements regularly cut through the peace. The recent addition of the ‘this is coach 3 of 12’ message after every announcement is a new infraction. Morning and evening (although mainly evening) I get to hear the plans of my fellow commuters. If I’m feeling nosy I can often even read documents or the laptop screens of the people sitting near me.

I used to work in an office which had two meeting rooms on our floor: Meeting Room A and Meeting Room B. I would have liked to have been part of the debate to come up with those fabulous names. Whenever we needed to escape the office, or were having an informal discussion, we would book meetings in Meeting Room C – a cafĂ© in town.

The good things about taking your meeting out of the office are:

  • more relaxed environment, which normally leads to more open discussion
  • creates a social bond between team members, especially useful in the early stages or building project teams, or in teams of project managers that don’t work together on the same projects
  • a change of setting promotes creativity.

However, you do have to be careful when you take work discussions off work premises. Off-site meetings, whether they are on a train (when business colleagues travel together they often end up talking about work – we don’t have much else in common), a business lunch, or a scheduled meeting taking place in a coffee shop, have disadvantages too. Not least the fact that your meeting is in a public place and anyone can overhear.

On Thursday, a Metro columnist reported that on her train a woman gave her debit card details and address to a utility company over the phone. I’m all for multi-tasking, but you have to consider what is appropriate information to disclose in a public place. You can decide where you set your personal tolerances – if you want to hand out your bank details to all and sundry, then feel free – but you need to be much more careful with company data.

Meeting Room C has become part of my personal vocabulary to describe an off-site meeting in a public place. But holding meetings like this does require a bit more thought and planning than taking your cup of tea to a meeting room.

People can (and will) listen in, and you never know what their role is at their own company. The authors of Naked Conversations report in their book that one of them once heard people from a competing organisation talking strategy during a plane trip – very helpful to know what the opposition are up to.

You can minimise the risk of giving away company secrets and still enjoy meetings in your local coffee shop:

  • don’t leave copies of agendas, meeting minutes or any other corporate paperwork, including your own handwritten notes, at the site of your meeting. Take your rubbish with you and dispose of it in the office
  • sit where other people can’t see your laptop screen, and never, ever, leave your laptop unattended. In fact, unless you are travelling, you shouldn’t have your laptop with you for this kind of meeting
  • ask your team to be discreet. There is no need to mention your company name every second sentence, or the full names of your executives. And don’t shout – which means don’t choose a place with background noise that requires you to raise your voice
  • give your project a codename. ‘Project Watson’ is more obscure than the ‘India Outsourcing Project’.

And finally, remember: if it’s confidential to the point that your project isn’t talked about openly in the workplace, don’t take it off site. So ask yourself, is this a meeting for Meeting Room C, or do we need the privacy and quiet of a different meeting room?

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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