Be everywhere you want to be

Have you noticed how difficult it has become to get all the parties involved in a design/build project together at the same time at the same table? With clients becoming increasingly time-poor due to work and family commitments, we builders and designers are finding it harder to move projects along in a timely fashion. And as the old adage goes, time is money.

Fortunately, we now have resources available that can mitigate the demands of the modern homeowner. Web conferencing has gained increased accessibility and acceptability with consumers. In the old days, only Fortune 500 companies used technology such as video conferencing, teleconferencing and web-based meetings. But thanks to the computer revolution (and the Internet) even small to moderately sized contractors can communicate with their clients this way.

While it is always a good idea to have both client decision makers present during sales and design meetings, sometimes it can be impossible to do so. Rather than drag out the process by rescheduling the meeting, sometimes it may be necessary to use unconventional techniques that involve technology.

For example, if the absent party has access to a computer and the Internet, web conferencing can offer a means of communication and participation. I recently used this method for a design meeting at which the husband was away on business but the wife hosted the meeting in her home. I was unsure of how well the meeting would proceed, but was pleased with the outcome. In fact, the husband was so pleased with the service and his ability to participate from afar, that he increased the scope of the project from across the country.

One of the obvious disadvantages of web conferencing is the lack of immediate nonverbal feedback that comes from face-to-face meetings. Often, though the client’s mouth is saying yes, the body and facial expressions may be saying something different. Both the designer and builder use these nonverbal clues to detect the client’s real agenda or need. Furthermore, when we are talking about spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of the client’s money, it’s nice to be able to offer personal, face-to-face service.

Still, web conferencing can have applications outside of the client’s domain. It can be a handy tool for working with vendors and subs. Just yesterday, I had to rush out of the office to a family obligation. I asked my wife to drive so I could finish up an online meeting I was conducting with a subcontractor. With a hands-free cellular telephone plugged into my ear and my laptop connected to the Internet via a wireless connection card, I revised a drawing on the go with the designer one thousand miles away. Literally, I was cruising down the highway and the information super-highway at the same time. The point is, with ever more demanding time constraints on clients and ourselves, we had better adapt our way of doing business to accommodate those limitations.

The flip side of this coin is that electronic communications will never replace the human element of one-on-one face time with time-deprived customers. Communication is all about clearly sending ideas and information back and forth. Whatever format that information takes, it still is human beings that are conveying it. And although time is money, the extra effort and time you put into your client relationships through thoughtful and clear communication will pay great dividends in the end.