You open up your browser to read the news while eating lunch at your desk. Just as Chrome opens, an Outlook notification pops up.
“ ❗ REMINDER: Marketing Strategy Meeting - 2pm”
It’s 1:58... Dun Dun DUNNNNN
You frantically dig up the invite link and join the session. It sounds like they’re still talking about the weather. Whew! You turn on your webcam and say hello. Everyone’s faces pop up across the top of your screen. Well, sort of. You can’t really see Ashley through the blast of sunshine coming through the window behind her. It looks like one of those anonymous cop show testimonies, just her silhouette. You can only see Connor from the eyeballs up, as usual. Corey sounds like he’s taking the call in his bathtub for some reason. George asks how to work the screenshare function, trying to start the meeting. This is peak meeting productivity.
You spend the next hour chiming in occasionally when it pertains to you, catching up on emails on your other screen.
There’s one reason so much of our professional conversation and collaboration has moved to this virtual format: Cost. It’s much easier to get people together when no one has to travel, let alone leave their desk (or house, if you work remotely). Removing the need for travel and the cost of having dedicated meeting spaces saves both time and money. Or does it? If virtual meetings are a better value, why are so many companies putting a renewed focus on in-person collaboration and training?
1. Interpersonal Conversation Depth
A study conducted by the Harvard Business School and the University of Chicago found that a simple handshake can be the difference in making or breaking a deal. It turns out that being in the same room is crucial to the collaboration process. An overwhelming amount of the effective interpersonal communication we engage in each day is non-verbal. When we’re trapped in a tiny window on someone else’s computer, a large amount of essential body language information gets lost. One of the other advantages of virtual meetings is that it’s easier to get down to business. Small talk is often brushed aside quickly on a video call. However, research over the past several years has shown that it actually plays an integral role in the success of a meeting. In fact, the little details we learn about others in these tangential conversations are the foundation for building meaningful and productive relationships.
Keeping everyone involved is also a much easier task when everyone is in the same room. In today’s professional world, deadlines are tighter than ever. Taking advantage of an opportunity to multitask is not something most people pass up. We’ve all had that occasional video conference meeting where a word doc or spreadsheet finds its way to the spot right underneath the webcam so that we can maintain eye contact with the camera while working. Even when everyone is 100% focused on what’s going on, conversations have the opportunity to flow much more naturally when everyone is in the same room. The latency of remote collaboration makes it tough to know when another person is wrapping up a thought. Conversations just don’t flow as organically. Often, virtual meetings can end up looking more like presentations and less like the collaborative conversations they were intended to be.
3. Efficiency and Productivity
Although we save time with video conferencing by removing the travel and scheduling complexities, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re being more efficient with our time and money. In fact, researchers have found that for every dollar that the average company invests in business travel, they receive a value of $12.50. Studies also show that virtual meetings generate nearly 30% fewer ideas on average than face-to-face meetings. We’ve all been on those notorious, 30-reply email threads that could have easily been solved by a 10 minute in-person conversation. Virtual collaboration is sometimes more convenient, but it's not necessarily more productive. Nothing beats getting together with the rest of your team to hash things out on a whiteboard together. Numerous studies have found strong links not only between handwriting and creativity, but also massive creativity and productivity benefits to being able to physically move about a space while collaborating.
Now, all of this said, going back to making ALL meetings in-person is out of the question. With the rise of remote work and ever-growing organizations and teams, it’s just not feasible to make every meeting face-to-face. However, with the above benefits in mind, it’s important to ensure you make the extra effort to connect and collaborate in-person regularly when appropriate.