Advancements in technology have enhanced the way businesses perform their day-to-day activities. One significant impact is communication. Employees are no longer bound together in offices or cubicles located in the same workspace, but wherever they are able to “get connected." This reality coupled with the widespread IT acceptance of mobile devices in the workplace means that employees are able to remain in communication with their home office, whether it is in a different city, state, or country.
Meetings and corporate events are part of doing business and one of the main ways that people communicate in an organization. There is an ever-growing availability of tools for virtual communication that is making it easier for employees to remain connected to their home office. Some people are starting to think that virtual communication will replace face to face meetings/events. Just as paper remains a relevant mainstay in business despite end-of-life predictions two decades ago, face to face communication will likely continue to have significance. In fact, there are four key features of face to face meetings that are just too significant to ignore:
- Nonverbal communication
- Better creativity
- Relationship building
- Fewer distractions
Communication is an important activity in business. When meeting professionals are gathered for a discussion or presentation, the words that are spoken by the speaker(s) are important to the message that is conveyed. However, there are other “invisible” influences that are communicated. Nonverbal communication in the form of facial expressions and gestures are always present in meetings where the people are face to face, but difficult to transmit in a virtual meeting. According to an article by Psychology Today titled “8 Tips for Effective Virtual Teams," non-verbal communication is transmitted via the senses and is essential for "developing trust and clear messaging." The article states that this type of communication is a challenge for virtual teams and must be overcome before the team can reach their maximum potential.
Creativity may not be the first word that comes to your mind when you think about meetings, but it is actually a very important aspect and is often what drives teams to reach decisions. While the source of the difference is unclear and requires further study, face to face meetings tend to promote creativity more than virtual meetings. These are the findings of a behavioral study by Barbican, PCMA Education Foundation, the IMEX Group and the Dubai Convention Bureau that was performed in 2012. Why is creativity important for meetings? The study contends that when people in an organization come together to discuss and generate ideas, the environment must foster a "generation of ideas."
One of the more understood realizations about face to face meetings is that they foster relationships and network building. In a meeting where people share the same space, connecting is a natural activity. While the same is possible for virtual meetings, it is less likely to happen. According to a survey by RW3 Culture Wizard of 600 employees within a variety of multinational corporations, building relationships during virtual meetings is a significant challenge. The obvious problem is that people are less likely to focus on connecting with people when they are virtual. Getting around this challenge requires meeting management that encourages activities that enable the people in a virtual meeting to connect.
In general, people tend to have short attention spans that are evident in both types of meetings. However, people are more likely to engage in other tasks during a virtual meeting—it’s just too easy. Unless people have an active role during the meeting, there are likely to engage in other work or worse, other personal work. You probably can’t get away with that type of distraction in a face to face (notwithstanding people checking their mobile devices for updates). Effective meeting management can offer some assistance in this area too. However, in a meeting where only a single speaker is required (for example an all-hands meeting), getting everyone to participate in a virtual meeting is difficult.
Will virtual meetings take the place of face to face meetings? Only the future can answer that question. What is certain is that organizations shouldn’t overlook the value of in-person meetings, despite the emergence of more advanced communication tools that will undoubtedly improve virtual meetings. A strategy that implements both types of meeting formations makes sense and should have the greatest impact on the success of the organization.
Interested in learning more about F2F meeting engagement and how virtual/hybrid technologies could impact the meeting management industry? Join us in discussion at PHARMA FORUM 2014 where you will learn strategies on how to bring F2F meetings to the next level.
(Image courtesy of Frédéric BISSON via Flickr)