Unstuffing those stuffy staff meetings
By Melinda Ligos (Published August 02, 2000)
Jerry McLaughlin hates corporate boardrooms.
That may explain why he once held a client meeting in a pet shop. Or why he holds staff powwows in a hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint called Redneck Earl’s. Or why he once brought clients and staff members together on the set of ”The Sopranos.”
In fact, Mr. McLaughlin, chief executive of Branders.com, a company in Foster City, Calif., that sells promotional products, would rather meet anywhere but in a typical corporate conference room. Why? ”Those kinds of meetings are just pageantry,” he said. ”Everybody plays the same old roles, and the whole thing is choreographed.”
He is not alone in his sentiments. Dot-com executives throughout the country are shunning traditional corporate meeting spaces for more unorthodox sites, ranging from rooftops to parks to church choir lofts.
Some companies select such sites for practical reasons. At InfoRocket.com, a start-up in Manhattan, space is so tight that the fast-growing company has had to convert all but one of its conference rooms into office areas for new employees. ”People are working almost on top of each other,” said Beth Haggerty, the chief executive, ”so we hold meetings on elevators and stairwells, by the company refrigerator or wherever else we can find even a shred of privacy.”
Even companies that have ample conference space are choosing to meet elsewhere, often as a way to get introverted technology workers to open up and talk frankly.
At least that was Peter Kirwan’s goal when he began ”fireside chats” with employees at NaviSite, a Web-hosting company in Andover, Mass. Mr. Kirwan, the company’s chief technology officer, tired of holding traditional quarterly one-on-one troubleshooting meetings with his staff in the company’s sterile boardroom.
”These meetings were never relaxed,” Mr. Kirwan said. ”People didn’t feel comfortable saying what was on their minds.”
So, about two years ago, in a fit of desperation, Mr. Kirwan decided to don a robe and slippers and hold the meetings in front of a hastily constructed fake fireplace instead. He lighted candles on the fireplace’s ”mantle” and offered his employees hot cocoa out of teacups brought from home.
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