Mr. Shangkong

Global business best done in person - or you may regret it

Virtual conferences can never replace the chemistry of a face-to-face meeting, but for East-West exchanges that means long flights and jet lag

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 3:22am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 4:23am

I've been on the road for the past week - first in Washington and then in New York - for some business meetings with our US media counterparts. Some may argue we could do these meetings through conference calls given the technology available today. No, we'd better not.

Don't get me wrong. It is definitely not fun to fly for nearly 15 hours from the East to the West. It doesn't matter if you take business or first class, you can't avoid suffering from jet lag after you land in another continent.

Ironically, even though technology is so advanced today, we still can't fix jet lag. On the other hand, our technology is advanced but it doesn't mean it can always enhance working efficiency.

Some may have regretted having conference calls instead of face-to-face meetings

As the world is becoming more globalised, such East-West meetings are taking place more often across the globe.

You can of course do some simple yes-or-no kind of meetings through video conference calls but sometimes this type of technology can't help you to boost your efficiency.

Some senior corporate executives may have regretted having conference calls instead of face-to-face meetings when the result of those virtual conferences turned out not as they expected.

I previously worked for a global news organisation for nearly seven years. In my last role with that organisation as a project manager, my working calendar was full of conference calls, including some regular weekly calls with London, Dubai, India and Singapore, and sometimes with New York too, depending on where my supervisors were travelling.

When senior executives in New York or London want to do conference calls with their Asian colleagues, in most cases they will not care whether the call is made during the family dinner time, or even when you should be sleeping.

Who wants to take a conference call at 11.30pm before your New York colleagues are ready for lunch. When you hang up the phone, it may be already past midnight and your mind is still on the conversation or problems you have discussed with your colleagues across the world, so you naturally have trouble falling asleep.

That's obviously not a healthy working life cycle. Perhaps it is just me.

After those weekly calls I had for my last employer, I remember we had to follow up with e-mails to summarise what our calls were about and then send them to more people who were not on the calls. Eventually, we found ourselves going nowhere.

A friend who used to work for technology giant Microsoft on the mainland blamed two things for contributing to it becoming a weaker company - way too many PowerPoint presentations (that's another office bureaucracy story) and way too many global conference calls.

In Asian culture, some procedures for face-to-face meetings, such as shaking hands, exchanging business cards with both hands holding the card and so on, cannot be simply done through video conference calls.

Meeting people is all about chemistry, and chemistry is like air. You can't see it but you know it is important.


George Chen is the financial editor and a columnist at the Post. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit