Could Virtual Conferencing Really Replace Face-To-Face Meetings?

Almost two-thirds of companies indicate they have a remote workforce. The reasons are myriad, ranging from lower cost per worker, reduced real estate and related costs, and the ability to recruit and retain hard-to-find talent. This is changing how companies structure their workspace, including whether they even secure permanent workspace for all or part of their workforce (viz., more and more solopreneurs and small businesses are opting to use coworking spaces, day offices, and rented conference rooms). 

Globalization of business and the rise of web conferencing software have made virtual conferencing a mainstay. Conference calls became more than a static line with dial-in number and passcode. Virtual conferencing services—including a proliferation in provider options—and powerful collaborative features such as integrated chat, video, screen sharing, and recording and transcription, among many others make virtual meetings almost like face-to-face meetings. 

Rise of Virtual Conferencing

Use cases for virtual conferencing are vast. Possibilities range from business development and product demos, to regular staff or project meetings, to one-on-one status meetings, to client status updates. Thus, solopreneurs and small businesses are turning increasingly to virtual conferencing in place of face-to-face meetings on the basis that they reduce costs and increase productivity.

Yet, professionals still value in-person meetings. Eighty-four percent of millennials, who comprise over half of the workforce today, prefer in-person meetings over virtual conferencing. Specifically, the one-on-one connection that occurs in face-to-face meetings is immensely more difficult to achieve over virtual conferencing. Ninety-three percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues such as verbal and facial feeling. This is true for both workers you know and don’t know. 

At the same time, a face-to-face person meeting conveys that the topic and other meeting participants are important. They also give various meeting attendees an opportunity to form bonds with each other and to have one-on-one conversations that simply would not have occurred if they had attended virtually.

“To Be or Not to Be” In-Person or Virtual

So, where does this leave us? The remote workforce is only going to increase in size, with some projecting that it will comprise more than half of the entire workforce by 2020. This rapid growth is certain to guarantee continued adoption of virtual conferencing. 

Yet, despite these trends, the importance of face-to-face meetings remains as important, if not more important, than ever. Business leaders and individual contributors need to exercise judgement in determining which meetings should be attended virtually and which ones require in-person attendance. Let’s look at some of the most prevalent meeting use cases:

1. Regular, Ongoing Staff and Project Meetings

Reoccurring status and staff meetings typically don’t require in-person attendance unless special activities and topics—planning or news announcements—are on the agenda. While attendees who are in the same location as the meeting room should attend when possible, in-person attendance should be optional and remote workers shouldn’t attend in-person. 

2. Project Kickoffs

Depending on the nature of the project and the role of each attendee, in-person attendance is important, helping to ensure each member of the project team meets each other, including a chance for quality one-on-one interactions and relationship building. These project kickoff meetings lay the groundwork for subsequent project success.

3. Ideation and Brainstorming Sessions

Ideation—or brainstorming—sessions often play a critical role in helping businesses solve difficult problems and develop new business initiatives. Research shows traditional group brainstorming results in fewer ideas than if the individuals came up list alone. 

A recent Harvard Business Review article delineates a list of strategies businesses can employ to ensure ideation and brainstorming meetings are successful. Planning before the actual meeting takes place is an important starting point, where individual participants are assigned work beforehand. Other strategies include ensuring that evaluation doesn’t end prematurely and allowing participants to draw out their ideas. The above is difficult to achieve if meeting participants are virtual; in-person attendance is a requirement. 

4. Strategic Planning 

Strategic planning sessions are like ideation and brainstorming sessions when it comes to the level of interaction between both individuals and as a group. Further, as strategic planning typically isn’t something that can be accomplished in an hour or even a couple hours but rather requires lengthier sessions, virtual conferencing simply cannot afford the collaboration needed. Additionally, to achieve appropriate follow-up actions and maintain momentum, in-person relationship building is critical.

5. Annual Performance Reviews

Performance reviews are an opportunity to reinforce successful behaviors while collaboratively working with the employee on areas of improvement and development. As these occur once or twice a year, managers should make them count. And with most of the five senses playing a critical role in how the manager communicates with the worker, an in-person is a must if optimal outcomes are expected. Delivering performance reviews through virtual conferencing can miss the mark and result in workers leaving the review session frustrated, uncertain, or even angry. 

6. Team Building

When leaders want to inspire teams to assume new goals and tackle difficult challenges, in-person meetings are immensely more effective. This doesn’t obviate the vitality of virtual teams. Per the above, virtual workers who spend 60 to 80 percent of their time away from the office have the highest levels of involvement. The takeaway is that the 20 to 40 percent time they spend in the office is geared for optimal outcomes (powered by team building and collaboration). 

Finding the Right Meeting Location

Meeting locations count and often equate to in-person meeting success or failure. For businesses with permanent office locations and meeting space, it makes sense to host most meetings in one of your meeting rooms. However, in some cases, getting the team offsite helps them focus and gets them out of their comfort zones. Of course, for the millions of solopreneurs and small businesses that rely on virtual offices, rented meeting space is a great option when it comes to in-person meetings. Upwards half the cost of hotel conference rooms, rented meeting space such as Davinci Meeting Rooms comes with the professional accoutrement’s businesses need to have a successful meeting.


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