One of the themes for this year’s International Project Management Day (which is today) is environmental projects that protect or preserve the environment. I don’t work on installing wind farms or developing solar energy products, but I have recently taken part in Conference: Zero, which was a low-carbon conference.
Conference: Zero was put on by APM and Pentacle Virtual Business School, using a Second Life-style conference environment. You can see from the screenshots that it was like being in a computer game, only not as good as GTAV.
As the delegates could attend from anywhere with an internet connection we collectively saved over 56,000 transport miles and the associated CO2 emissions. So, could this type of networking for project management take off?
The feedback from delegates – at least what I heard from tweets and emails during and after the event, plus the online chat – was that it had technical problems. Regardless of your internet connection speed or processor power, some of the rooms were difficult to move into and load. I missed the opening keynote because I couldn’t get into the virtual room, and I know of one delegate who gave up at lunchtime because it was too frustrating and he was arriving late to every session.
I was talking about the themes from my book, Customer-Centric Project Management, and I deliberately started my session broadly on time. I thought that was important (as I only had 20 minutes anyway) and for people who had made the effort and I wanted to respect their time. If I, or any of the other presenters, had routinely started late we wouldn’t have got through our material and we would have wasted a lot of time during the day which would have been equally as frustrating for everyone.
I think the online conference has a lot going for it. You can join in your pyjamas (as I did for Andrew Hubbard’s talk at 7.30am). You can drop in and out as you please, attending the presentations that capture your interest and doing something more productive when there isn’t anything on that you want to listen to. But the networking side of it is harder to do. It’s almost impossible to strike up a conversation with a random delegate because there is no lunch queue or coffee queue. I went to the bookshop a couple of times but no one was there – that would be rare in a real-life conference, where people browse for ages.
I would attend again, but I think this type of virtual environment needs practice. We all know how to walk around and find the right room, chatting to people as we go, but doing that with your keyboard takes practice. We need to learn the quirks of online networking in a virtual environment. Yes, it’s great for the environment, but it also doesn’t have the benefit of a day out of the office. That’s one of the main reasons to go to a conference – it refreshes you, fills you with great ideas and you come back to the office inspired. At least, that’s what it does for me.
Sitting at my PC eating breakfast, or getting frustrated that I’m missing presentations isn’t the same. So while I think we’ll see more events hosted virtually to save travel costs and the planet, I really hope that face-to-face events don’t fade away completely.