It's easy to understand the word Meeting and a suitable definition for it might be the act or process of coming together - an assembly or gathering of people for a business, social, or religious purpose.

Good or bad, meetings are essential to productivity. They keep people focused and motivated to complete a task and generate valuable ideas. Many people would argue that we have too many, they take too long and are often badly run even though they are an inescapable part of business life.

But, is the definition subtly changing as meetings no longer require people to physically gather together?

I have no idea how many meetings I went to last year, but a growing number of them were held over the telephone, in the office and on my mobile or over the web with or without video.

The range of collaboration solutions that enable people to work together is undoubtedly changing the perception of the word Meeting. In some cases organisations, having invested in a collaboration platform, are using it to set corporate policy around meeting logistics to improve the quality of communication whilst saving costs.

I recently met with the Michelin Group European Chief Information Officer Jean-Paul Bouchon, who explained the value of the company's global audio and web conferencing platform to manage 10,000 meetings a month between employees, partners, and customers based around the world.

"Conferencing solutions enable Michelin to make remote meetings more productive and efficient. By reducing the time our employees spend travelling we can support their individual performance and promote more frequent and productive collaboration around projects. These virtual meetings also share best practice and foster creativity and responsiveness," he explained.

Bouchon also believes that the availability of conferencing solutions means that employees can manage their time more efficiently, leading to a much more effective working day and a healthier overall personal life balance.

As well as company initiatives changing the way we meet, perhaps the most significant drivers for change are employees themselves. We used to accept getting on a plane or driving for miles to get together with colleagues or customers, but we are beginning to query the time spent on this when we can so easily build digital relationships.

Many of my younger colleagues are just as happy interacting with others on a video call or on a web conference as getting together in a meeting room. Their interactions are shorter and they are less constrained by the need to find a convenient time and place to gather.

Many of them would be surprised and even frustrated not to have access to a collaboration platform which enables them to work together in the same way they interact and share information with their friends on social networking sites or through mobile devices.

This freedom from the need to physically meet also means that they have no reservations about their colleagues being spread across countries and time zones.

As businesses strive to maintain productivity in the face of disruption, caused by anything from the weather to strikes, the range and access to conferencing solutions is changing the meaning of the concept of meeting.

Rather than being constrained by travel to a fixed location, we can now participate in something more adapted to our flexible, connected way of working.

I am not sure that the word meeting will cease to include face-to-face interaction, but perhaps the next decade will see us find a new word to describe the activity which connects people from all over the world to share ideas and get the job done.

Pic: Ross Tucknott cc2.0