Can the face-to-face meeting ever be replaced with video conferencing?
Since the pandemic, remote working has become the norm and has accelerated digital transformation for many businesses.
With in-person meetings now not always a viable option, businesses have turned to phone calls, video conferencing, screen sharing and instant messaging for planning and sharing ideas at work.
But how exactly have meetings changed since the pandemic and since remote working took off? Have they changed forever?
What are the pros and cons of remote and in-person meetings? And can the face-to-face meeting ever really be replaced? What happens when people start blending in-person groups with remote workers?
In this article, we explore the answers to these questions, and why having the right managed IT services in place can make all the difference with remote conference calls.
How have meetings changed since the pandemic?
The obvious change to meetings is that they are now largely attended remotely since the pandemic started. But what does this mean for businesses?
In recent years, there have been many reports and statistics on how meetings are a waste of time, often poorly organised, and could easily be done via email instead.
In fact, despite upper and middle management spending most of their time preparing for and attending meetings, as many as 67% of executives consider their meetings to be unproductive.
But remote working has changed this somewhat. And people are beginning to see the benefits of working from home. In fact, 70% of young professionals now believe that going into the office is unnecessary.
While not everyone will agree that offices are to become obsolete, there is no denying that remote meetings come with a lot of benefits compared with in-person meetings. These include:
- Shorter meetings and less time spent in meetings. An interesting study by the National Bureau of Economic Research on the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace found that remote working reduced the average length of meetings by 20%. And people spent 12% less time in meetings per day.
- More efficient meetings. Arguably, the above statistics mean that remote meetings are more efficient. Many companies that follow agile working practices use concepts such as the ‘standup’ meeting. These are very short, focused meetings. The idea comes from in-person meetings where people are required to stand up to say their piece, which makes them more likely to be quick and not ramble on too much. Remote meetings tend to have this effect too.
- More people can be involved. The same National Bureau of Economic Research study found that the number of attendees per meeting increases by around 14% when working remotely.
- More scope for international meetings. With the wonders of technology and remote meetings, it becomes easier and more realistic for businesses to meet with clients and colleagues all over the world.
- Travel and expenses are down. We all know that in-person meetings can be costly due to travel costs, time, and expenses. But with nobody travelling during the pandemic, and fewer face-to-face meetings, companies can save time and money. In fact, BT saved £128 million a year by rethinking its meeting culture and replacing face-to-face interaction with video and web-based conferencing. Each meeting replaced saved the company at least £432 in travel costs, accommodation fees and unproductive travel time.
Businesses have been working remotely and enjoying the benefits to productivity since before the pandemic. And this is not just with meetings.
If you can find ways, with the right processes and tools, to stay connected to remotely, then the solitude aspect can benefit productivity and boost morale. People can focus, productivity increases, and gossip at the coffee machine or cigarette breaks goes down.
Businesses that have been forced to embrace new ways of working may have struggled to adapt initially, but they are now seeing the same benefits.
When video conference calls are not enough
All of that said, in-person meetings are still an important and critical component of business success.
According to research by Harvard Business Review, 95% of people say face-to-face communication is essential for long-term business relationships. And according to a study by Forbes on the case for face-to-face meetings, 85% believe they build stronger, more meaningful business and client relationships than video meetings.
The dynamics of in-person meetings are very different to remote meetings. In-person meetings tend to be immediately warmer and more personal than video calls, and can allow for better collaboration and feedback.
There are also definitely some aspects of in-person meetings that are lost in translation with remote communication, and cannot be easily replicated. For example, you can’t exchange a handshake or business card virtually.
So, in some situations, face-to-face conversations are perceived as more positive and credible than online meetings. Here are some of the downsides to remote meetings:
- Lack of non-verbal and body language cues. Albert Mehrabian’s famous 7-38-55 Rule of Communicationsuggests that only 7% of meaning is communicated through the words we use, 38% is through how we say them (tone, voice, pitch etc), and 55% is through our facial expressions. And according to another study, 77% of respondents were influenced in a business meeting by looks and handshakes alone.
- More potential for disruptions. Working from home often means more potential for disruptions and interruptions. Doorbells and package deliveries, phones ringing, family members, and connectivity issues can all interfere with the quality and focus of our meetings. Not to mention issues with bad lighting and distracting backgrounds.
- Can be difficult to establish trust, bonding and loyalty. The social and emotional part of in-person meetings and relationship-building can be hard to replicate and replace in virtual meetings. We only have two senses to rely on, for example, and the lack of body language removes an important layer for authenticity and personal bonding.
- Natural conversational overlap is lost. One very interesting difference to come out of remote meetings compared to in-person meetings is the change in conversational overlap. The technology often simply doesn’t allow for it. If one person talks over another, even for a second, the first speaker’s words are lost and unheard. And while a room full of people talking over each other is certainly not a goal for meetings, some conversational overlap is natural and can actually aid the flow of conversation, and indicate mutual understanding/agreement between parties.
- Distance from the camera can be an issue. Where people place themselves in relation to the camera can vary widely on video calls. Some people (particularly in larger meetings and conference calls) may sit too far away or even out of view completely, making it difficult for others to hear them or read their body language. And recent research shows that people’s faces too close to the camera can cause anxiety for other participants.
- Processing information is harder than in person. Looking at a screen of multiple faces at the same time on a panel is also harder for the brain to process than in an in-person meeting. We can’t properly process the group dynamic as a whole, take in the body language of people who aren’t speaking, or fully anticipate who’s turn it is to speak next.
Technology can make or break your business meetings
If you hadn’t experienced a remote call gone wrong before the pandemic, it is safe to say that most businesses have now encountered the frustrating (and at times excruciating) issues that can come with online video conferencing.
“Hello? Oh? Are you there?”
“I can see you but I can’t hear you”
“Oh! Was still on mute there for a second. Sorry!”
“Who is furiously typing? We can all hear it…loudly”
“Can you all see my shared screen? No?”
“Oh, sorry, you weren’t supposed to see that window”
“Oh, no, she’s gone”
“We’ve lost him!”
“Sorry, it’s my Wi-Fi”
There has been a lot of fun poked at technical problems like these in adverts and comedy videos.
For example, Leadercast’s hilarious video touches on all the scenarios most of us have found ourselves in at least once. Latecomers joining and causing disruption, beeps and pings, communication problems, feedback issues, lagging, breaking up and interruptions.
While some of these issues are just part and parcel of remote video conferencing, a lot can be avoided if you are using the right technology for your business.
Getting the most out of your video conferencing tools
Remote working is changing the technology stack for businesses, and there are so many great options out there to enable truly productive and unified communications when working remotely.
The adoption of Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed since the pandemic, with usage growing by 894% from the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown to June 2020 alone, meaning it quickly surpassed Zoom.
Support from an IT managed services provider like IntraLAN can help you get the most out of your technology when working remotely.