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Berni’s Alternatives to Meetings for Virtual Assistants

Berni Jones runs First4Admin and has written the No Nonsense Women’s Guide To Business.  As VAs we often get asked to go to meetings when in reality the alternatives are often more effective and save your clients lots of money…

Berni has done a cracking round up of the alternatives here:

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging allows you and your partners to maintain a long-term virtual “presence” as you work, posting questions, updates, and ideas as they strike you or as you come across problems in your work. Since most instant messaging programs maintain a full record of the chat history, there’s no danger of missing anything or losing it. This can be perfect for work teams who are separated by long distances.

Keep in mind two rules to productive instant messaging:

  • Cut the Chatter – Keep things focused, each person should speak only a) When they have something important to add, or b) In response to a question.
  • No Frills – Most instant messaging software and social media come with a huge selection of voice and video capabilities, avatars, face-morphing functions, multi-coloured fonts, and more. Don’t waste time using what you don’t need. It’s for business and work, not for social chatting.


If more personal contact and real-time sharing is needed, try a teleconferencing system like Adobe’s Acrobat.com or GoToMeeting. Not only do most teleconferencing solutions provide video and voice communication, many of them also allow screen sharing, collaborative white boarding, and other substitutes for same-room presence, without the commute to the meeting. Since most also create a transcript, you generally don’t need someone taking minutes, either – genius!

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Wikis provide a collaborative environment that is ideal for the development of working documents and statements, as well as material that will need to be referred to again and again. Wikis are self-organising and easy to create and edit, and they keep track of changes made along with a record of who is responsible for each edit. Where real-time interaction isn’t a necessity, building a wiki over a long period of time can be far more productive than a chain of meetings, but make sure to assign responsibilities and allow time for wiki work. It can take time to develop a comprehensive wiki, but it can be very helpful in the long term, especially if documents have to be referred to repeatedly. Where security is a major concern, you can set up an internal wiki fairly easy using the Intranet. Think of it as your own private space for documentation and processes.

Email Lists/Groups

In some situations where real-time interaction isn’t a priority, often a good old-fashioned email list can still be quite productive for getting tasks completed as a group. Both Google and Microsoft offer services that are free and easy to set up. Consider using exchanges as they can automatically maintain a searchable archive of past discussions.

Collaboration Applications

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Effective use of a project management application can forestall the need for most meetings. Systems like Wrike and Basecamp allow notes to be exchanged, tasks to be assigned, and files to be shared. They also offer a number of ways for users to interact: SMS, email, online, RSS, or using a third-party application through Basecamp’s API.

If fully-fledged project management is too much, consider using online services like Google Docs alongside Google Talk or another IM – you can share documents, add to and edit each other’s work, and create a repository of materials at the same time.

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