This week, as befits a child of the English Midlands (not to be confused with Middle Earth, no Orc or Hobbit, I), I thought I'd get all Shakespearean on your asses. First, I'd just like to state that my editor, the bounteous Tyler, says I need to get to the point more quickly, so here we are [Ed note: I trimmed this a bit]. This week's topic is the tricky subject of meetings. Where the jiggins do you meet when you work from home? Maybe you designate the utility room as a conference room, with Danish pastries and coffee on top of the ironing board. If it's a "my place or yours?" scenario, you might want to opt for the latter. There's also the option of your local café, or joining a members' club—all options that we will explore in full. Shakey's iambic pentameters coming up in a bit.
I have spent the past three years working for companies with people I have never met in my life. Sad, but true. For the daily office banter, we use Campfire, where we can sling our bons mots at our co-workers in an attempt to put them off their strokes. Meetings are usually done over Instant Messaging, where we can discuss secret projects, bitch, moan, and get more time-consuming projects, such as copy editing features, done without clogging up the board. Serious home workers among you may already have a video-conferencing set up, while recluses may prefer the privacy of the telephone and a gadget that distorts one's voice.
But there are times when only a face-to-face will do. Remember that a meeting gives a potential client—or an existing one—more of a handle on you and your business than any phone call or email. Given that you wouldn't turn up for a meeting in stinky tracksuit bottoms and a tee-shirt that says "Team-Building Exercise 99," so it follows that you would want to portray your workspace in the best possible light. After all, tidy desk means tidy mind—or something. Apparently Madame Claude, a well-known brothel owner in '70s Paris would make her potential employees empty out their handbags on her desk the first time she interviewed them. If the contents were minimal and organized, they got the job. A bag full of sweet wrappers, receipts, manky lipsticks and the general detritus of life got the girl a swift, "I don't think you're quite right for our établissement. Au revoir." I wonder how Mary Poppins would have fared?
So, here are five places where you can meet—and five that I would really recommend you avoid, unless you want to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010.
This is a great option if your business makes enough money for you to justify club fees. It reflects a great image for you and your firm—namely that you are successful, professional, and a details person. On top of that, there's free wifi, should you need it, plus staff on hand to make sure you and your client's every need is catered for. You may find they'll cut a deal with you if you're only prepared to use the club's facilities during daylight hours.
Local cafe, hotel, or restaurant
A cafe is the cheapest option, but there's the general hustle and bustle to deal with, which can be a distraction. A hotel will charge you for a room, but if you need regular meetings—like the drugs cartel in The Wire—then they'll probably be prepared to do a 12-for-the-price-of-10 option. And restaurants? All well and good, but I would only recommend this option if you're on familiar terms with your client, as the social element of dining could make it awkward if he or she doesn't do small talk. Final tip: don't order the spaghetti, oysters, or tripe. It's not a good look.
There are, of course, several reasons why meeting people in your home office are a win-win situation for you. For starters, there's no time wasted getting to a different venue and you've got all the facts and figures needed to impress the meetee at your fingertips. Downsides are—unless, of course you are a natural at the spick and span—putting your house in order every time someone turns up. I had a most disconcerting experience last year, when a boss dropped in at my house to ask if he could use my house for a conference call, as both of his meeting rooms were busy. As he wandered round upstairs (I thought I was the only person who walked and talked when on the phone) deep in conversation with a French CEO, all I could think was, "Did I clean the toilets? Oh My God, there's a pile of dirty washing on the bedroom floor!" If I'm honest, I thought it was: a) inappropriate; and b) it put me in a very tricky situation. I don't like saying "No" to the people who pay my wages, but if I had to do it again, I would demur, firmly.
If you only have occasional meetings, then this is could be a great option. Those of you with philanthropic chums who have a largish office at their disposition, then start sucking up now. Those of you whose friends are slightly less philanthropic but still blessed with an all-singing, all-dancing workplace, may want to offer a service up in return. Many small businesses rely on mutual favors and backscratching to keep costs down. If your helpful friend's office is a cubicle in a call center, then politely refuse.
Now then, here's the Shakespeare. When Tyler mooted the idea of this week's column, I immediately thought of the three witches in Macbeth. To refresh your memories:
Where shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning or in rain?
When the hurly-burly's done
When the battle's lost and won
That will be ere the set of sun.
Where the place?
Upon the heath.
There to meet with Macbeth.
Well, where else would a trio of weird sisters meet—Starbucks? Location is everything, but with this option, so is the weather. I wouldn't advocate this if you live in Cherrapunjee, northeast India, or the Atacama desert. But a walk in the park is a great option. I spent six months editing a B2B Web site, and would frequently meet up with the proprietor for a cappuccino and a perambulation in Hyde Park. It also meant that I could multi-task, and give the dog a walk. Also, there's something about fresh air that works wonders on the mind. I've come up with some of my best ideas whilst tooling round the Serpentine, lost in thought.
Unless, of course, your business is rehab centers, in which case why would you be working from home? And if the lunatics have taken over the asylum, then mine's a rum and coke, Giovanni.
Do you like the way you look after a five mile gallop on the treadmill? I'm only saying this because I resemble a beetroot in a wig after 30 minutes of hard exercise. Add to that the fuggy smell of steroidy man-sweat, the tasteless Lycra outfits and the tinny turbo-rave music, and, well, I think I need to lie down.
A hotel room
A little anecdote for you. A long, long time ago, I edited a music fanzine in Paris. After securing an interview with one of the Detroit triumvirate who'd invented Techno music (I went up to the DJ booth at the club he was playing in) and asked him if I could meet with him the next evening. Sure thing he said, turning an appreciative eye on me. So, the next night, I pitch up at his hotel, dressed like a Canadian lumberjack (I'd pretty much clocked the eye thing and saw a plaid shirt, boyfriend jeans and steel toe-capped boots as the perfect antidote.) Down to the lobby he comes. "Come on up, tall yet strangely pulchritudinous music hack. My hotel room is at your disposal." "Er, I'd feel more comfortable in the bar," I stuttered. It was to no avail. Upstairs we went (my eye on the prize—an exclusive interview with a man who hadn't spoken to the press in five years). Reader, you can imagine what happened next. Earnest little me, 20 years old, with a list of questions and a dictaphone, perched primly on a chair. Lascivious gym-bunny record changer lounging on the bed. I get to what I think is my most profound question—how did the works of Alvin Toffler change his ethereal music into something tougher?—and this was his response. Turning my recorder off, he looked me deep in the eyes and suggested I grab hold of his, um, dictaphone instead. Exit Addy stage left, pursued by a bear.
If your business is baggies filled with noxious smelling herb, or guns, or illegally-harvested kidneys, then go right ahead. If not—unless you're selling your car—then nay, nay and thrice nay. Can you concentrate fully on what the other person is saying while you're negotiating the traffic? Feel free, however, to drop them off at their office, or a train station, after your meeting of minds. Should you have a chauffeur-driven Maybach, however, then who am I to tell you what to do? In fact, why are you even reading this?
What did you say your occupation was again?