Effective collaboration is vital to any business. Not only does it help teams work together towards their goals, and promote effective productivity, but it can also make employees feel happier, more engaged, more valued, and more loyal to the business.
Because of the pandemic, remote working has become far more commonplace, and virtual collaboration using tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom has been normalized as a result. But while this provides benefits from a functional perspective (and is a big part of enabling the flexible work that’s so important now), in many cases it can’t replace the nuance and creativity that can only be found when people collaborate in person.
In this blog, we’ll explore where virtual collaboration could be holding businesses back, and the most important factors to getting face-to-face meetings right in a world of flexible work.
8 reasons why in-person meetings are better
Firstly, it’s important to say that virtual collaboration absolutely has its merits in the right circumstances. As an example, if a meeting is going to be more formal, with a highly structured agenda and only a small number of people doing most of the talking, then there’s no real practical difference between staging it in person or remotely.
But when it comes to meetings that are more fluid, more creatively focused or where large numbers of employees are going to play an active role, virtual participation struggles to make the grade. There are eight main reasons why this is the case:
- Body language: in virtual meetings, you generally only see the person’s head, neck and shoulders. You can’t normally see their hands or any other movements they may be making with their bodies. Not being able to understand this body language makes it much harder to understand any emotion, feeling or context behind what is being said.
- Stilted conversations: anyone who has been in a virtual meeting will understand the frustration of too many people talking at the same time, or the awkward silences when nobody knows who can speak next. This conversational flow is much easier to adjust to when everyone can see each other in a room, and not as a bank of thumbnails on a screen.
- Technical mishaps: whether it’s unreliable internet connections, problems getting everyone logged on, or even simple human mistakes like forgetting to come off mute, there are all sorts of tech-related problems that simply don’t exist in physical meetings.
- External distractions: every remote employee’s home working environment is going to be different, and there are practically limitless distractions that can divert their attention: partners, children, pets, visitors at the front door, background noise, and much more.
- Builds loyalty and trust: Employees can easily feel isolated when working remotely and shut off from face-to-face contact for long periods of time. In person meetings keep them engaged and connected with their own team and with your wider workforce, building a better relationship.
- Face to face can be more productive: Working together in person removes the rigidity of communicating through emails or video calls. Workers who are physically able to see and talk to each other will find it easier to streamline their communications and collectively innovate to develop new ideas.
- Easier to focus: When different teams have to work together (for example, Marketing and Sales), it’s much more straightforward to do this in meeting rooms than on large-scale video calls. Office-based work helps teams stay functional, and aligned with the work of others.
- Address sensitive issues: By putting the correct measures around scheduling, social distancing, sanitization and contact tracing in place, you can not only safeguard employees’ physical health, but also improve their mental and emotional health by giving them the confidence that they can return to work safely.
How to get in-person meetings right
Despite the potential limitations of virtual meetings, ensuring in-person collaboration runs smoothly means much more than just bringing everyone into a meeting room. The ideal setting and environment for an in-person meeting will vary depending on the people involved, the content and the intended outcomes. To ensure that meeting organizers get this right every time, they should be given as much flexibility as possible in three areas:
- Type of meeting space: companies should explore different specifications and meeting spaces, to maximize the choice available for different meetings. These could include large conferencing rooms, smaller enclosed meeting spaces, and informal breakout zones with more comfortable seating and where employees can feel more relaxed.
- Ease of space access: the searching and booking of these workspaces should be as quick and easy as possible. Ideally, organizers would have access to a workspace booking platform where they can check the availability and details of a workspace, check availability of attendees, and book at the appointed time in a matter of moments.
- Booking of equipment and services: at the same time as booking the workspace, organizers should be able to reserve any related equipment or services that can make the meeting even better. This could include audio-visual kit like large monitors for presentations, or even catering if a meeting is taking place over breakfast or lunch.