CEOs increasingly going virtual, study finds

Picture a CEO at work and you’ll probably imagine a serious, suited person addressing a boardroom or presenting a product at a conference. But a recent study reveals that technology is shifting what chief executives spend their time doing, just as it’s changing the average workdays of many further down the corporate ladder.

The ongoing study, known as the Executive Time Use Project, was carried out by scholars from the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School, and some of its findings were reported recently in the Wall Street Journal. The team of researchers conducted in-depth analyses of the daily schedules of 500 CEOs from companies of various sizes and a variety of countries to find out exactly what they do all day.

As you’d expect, meetings were a big time-suck for executives, with one sample of 65 CEOs spending 18 hours of their 55-hour workweek tied up in meetings. But what you might be more surprised to learn was how many of those meetings were conducted virtually. Forget images out of Mad Men of key players gathered around a conference table hashing out weighty matters, the WSJ says CEOs’ meetings are “often conducted virtually in global companies.” The article offers Rory Cowan, CEO of 4,500-strong technology services company Lionbridge Technologies, as an example:

Instead of spending a lot of time in long face-to-face meetings, however, Mr. Cowan spends more time “doing frequent iterative touches,” either in person or via text messages, instant messaging and video chat—sometimes with “four or five windows open concurrently.” As a result, his meetings rarely last more than 15 minutes, he says.

As Victoria Pynchon writes in a thoughtful consideration of the findings for Forbes, this study “tells us that CEOs’ lives are looking a lot like those of working mothers who are telecommuting, taking advantage of flex-time schedules and conducting much of their business virtually.” And Pynchon feels the decline in the importance of “face time” can only be a good thing for business culture as an understanding of and tolerance for more flexible ways of working seeps down the ranks. “Flex-time will no longer be associated primarily with working mothers nor considered a sign of a mother’s lack of focus on and dedication to her work,” she concludes.

Do you agree that CEOs’ increasing use of flextime and virtual communication tools is likely to change attitudes further down their organization?

Image courtesy of Flickr user DanDeChiaro.