What we can learn about the future of meetings from Google

Google Hangouts Chat

I process meeting requests all day, especially on Fridays (my day for holding a few phone briefings and meeting with some volunteers at a local college). You would think we would have figured out how to improve the process by now, ever since my corporate career ended around 2001.

Back then, I sat through countless meetings every day…all day long. You can feel sorry for me now. My “other” full-time job at the time was adjusting my schedule. It was often difficult to know who was actually available and in the office, even if Outlook gave me a few clues. No one had invented a sensor for tracking the boss.

These days, a few apps help somewhat, but they “live” on their own outside of my normal routines — a.k.a., using Gmail and Google Cal. I can chat all day on Slack, but meetings are not really part of that ritual. I still have to manually add them and manage them in my Google Calendar. I know I could use X.ai, but that uses email — yet another app.

In a recent demo, a Google rep explained to me how Hangouts Chat could change that, and it made me think of many other novel ways a bot could all but remove the tedium of managing a daily schedule. The @meet bot is nothing special. You tag the bot and name a day and time, and the bot sifts through everyone’s schedule and finds an open slot, then books the meeting.

What impressed me about it wasn’t the actual feature set (you can also hold a meeting right now with the bot, which creates a Hangouts link) but the possibility for what could come next.

The bot uses some basic machine learning. In the demo, the rep showed how the bot can see who is in the chat and make sure everyone is on the invite list. It can scan the schedules for everyone involved because the chat tool runs in G Suite, the office version of Gmail and Google Calendar. It’s a bit like having an assistant who does the meeting invites.

But I want it to go much further, of course. I’d like to activate the bot before the discussion starts, tagging @meet so that it watches what we say and then jumps in and suggests a meeting time only because we start talking about needing to meet. It could constantly look for the words meeting and meet in every Hangouts Chat channel. That might be helpful, but the bot could then use more machine learning to parse the conversation even further. How about noting that one of the participants is actually a contractor and never attends any meetings? Skip him on the next one. Or the bot could split us out to two different meetings, knowing that some of us are in marketing and some of us are in sales.

It could also look at conference rooms. In that office with the college volunteers, there’s a tool called Ad Astra we use to book conference rooms. It’s old tech. I’d like the @meet bot to look at who is chatting and find an open room that’s closest to everyone involved. Maybe it can learn that we normally book rooms with larger windows, or that the exec who attends prefers the meeting space next to the coffee machines. It’s not that hard. When the exec types “I prefer to meet in the space next to the coffee machines” is not a Herculean challenge for a bot.

And, all of this is something that would occur in the background. We’d never have to think about meeting requests or even meetings at all. We’d have a bot that manages them, arranges them, notifies us about them, adjusts them — we’d simply show up and trust the bot.

Hopefully, Google makes this happen soon.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply