Over the past few years, the idea of what constitutes a typical work meeting has been everchanging. With both fully remote and hybrid working schemes now readily available, it looks like virtual meetings are here to stay. And while it’s often assumed that these online gatherings are less productive than face-to-face meetings, the reality is a lot more complex than that.

The in-person meeting

In-person meetings demand that participants physically assemble in the same location; whether that’s in the office, an off-site venue, or – as is often the case – a different city or country entirely.

For many companies, in-person meetings are a driving force for business travel. Proponents would say they offer:

  • Greater productivity and engagement due to higher potential of some people feeling they can speak up in person.
  • Human connection and greater understanding, thanks to eye contact and body language.
  • Face-to-face interaction, which leads to smoother and more direct conversations.

On the other hand, there are a few downsides to gathering in person:

  • Time & expense – The logistics of it can be time-consuming and expensive, especially if meetings are held abroad or at an external location.
  • Efficiency – In-person meetings are easier to derail and can be long and drawn out, since the very act of meeting up with colleagues can feel like socializing – leading to conversation tangents, off-topic questions and non-work-related small talk.
  • Environmental impact – in-person meetings raise a company’s carbon footprint, especially when business travel abroad is a factor.
  • Less flexibility – If employees are expected to be in the office for a scheduled meeting and have to give up time to commute, this reduces the flexibility of their working life.

The virtual meeting

The virtual meeting connects you with colleagues in different physical locations, using internet-connected devices and software that have become an essential part of everyday working life.

The main advantages that virtual meetings bring are:

  • Accessibility – they suit a range of communication styles.
  • Flexibility – they connect different time zones and make a healthy work-life balance more easily achievable.
  • Time and efficiency – they mean employees can skip the commute and enjoy a more flexible schedule including things like lunch break exercise classes. They also tend to be shorter and more succinct and can be recorded for future reference.
  • Cost-effectiveness – they cut costs for employee travel, refreshments and locations.

However, some disadvantages of virtual meetings include:

  • Tech issues – we’ve all been there with the frozen screen or talking while still on ‘mute’; successful virtual meetings depend upon decent internet connectivity and technology, with problems like this potentially hampering a discussion and being frustrating for both employers and employees.
  • Delayed responses – without face-to-face human interaction, it can be hard to avoid interruptions or people all trying to speak at the same time, which can make problem-solving and collaboration a little trickier.
  • Limited interactions – virtual meetings also limit the amount of bonding possible between employees, as it can be hard to truly get to know someone and interact naturally on-screen.

What are the main differences between in-person and virtual meetings?

The main differences are the expense, efficiency and human connection. Virtual meetings tend to be more inclusive, allowing space for all sorts of communicators. They’re also arguably more efficient work-wise, cutting down on superfluous conversation alongside the ease of cutting down on commute and costs.

But the lack of human interaction available in a virtual space is another major difference; many would say that gathering colleagues together on a regular basis is important for company culture and connection.

Are in-person meetings more effective?

The answer to this really depends on the needs of your team and business.

Communication styles

If members of your team tend to be introverted, then virtual meetings may feel like a safer space for speaking up than having to take center stage in a big boardroom. If employees are more extroverted, then in-person meetings may suit their communication style better.

In-person may also be preferable for engagement; while virtual meetings are often more efficient in terms of relaying and processing information, some employees may find it hard to stay engaged without the back-and-forth, Q&A style of an in-person gettogether.

Team bonding

If your work requires team members to bond for the first time, in-person meetings can be crucial. It can be hard to build a relationship with a new colleague in a virtual setting, with delays and technical difficulties sometimes interrupting the flow of conversation. But if your team relationships are already established, then virtual can work better.

Focus

We all have our particular procrastination or distraction tactics; for some, it may be online shopping or browsing through various tabs. For others, it might be doodling or daydreaming while staring out of the office window. Again, this can depend on the type of work your team is doing and the way your employees prefer to work.

Certain types of people tend to zoom out when a discussion jumps around, with questions popping up and digressing from the topic of conversation. Or find it hard to work in an office environment where questions and chit-chat are constantly interrupting the flow of work. Whereas others are more easily distracted by pets or the doorbell ringing and find it easier to be present in a meeting room.

To find the right meeting style for your team, it’s important to consider all of these factors.

Practicalities

If commuting and scheduling a meeting room in a busy office tend to be more of a strain on employees than a boon, then virtual meetings are your best bet. But if it’s easier and preferable for colleagues to gather in the office, then in-person is a great option to have. To decide whether to meet in-person or virtually, your team should first consider whether the office building has the correct facilities and whether employees live close to the office or not.

Collaboration

In-person meetings automatically allow for more spontaneous engagement, communication and collaboration. If the focus of your meetings is brainstorming, for instance, meeting face-to-face can be beneficial for exchanging ideas and the flow of creative discussions, with members able to provide feedback instantaneously.

But if the meeting focus is running through a presentation that doesn’t require participation, then virtual is more effective. Deciding whether to gather in-person or online according to the content of a meeting is a great way to improve efficiency all-round.

How to decide between in-person meetings and virtual meetings

When deciding which type of meeting is better for you, it’s important to consider your team and business goals. The important questions to ask are:

  1. Is your team trying to brainstorm or simply relaying information about the business?
  2. What is your team’s preference in terms of communication style?
  3. What are the environmental implications of traveling to the office or abroad for an in-person meeting?
  4. Do your team members appreciate the flexibility and time gained from virtual meetings and prefer to opt for remote work over in-person?
  5. Do in-person meetings take away so much time in general that employees find it hard to complete their actual work with these interruptions?

These are just a few of the questions to ask before deciding to go down the in-person or virtual meeting route. Both options come with their challenges but once you take into account the specific needs of your company and your team, you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision.

How to plan virtual meetings with ease

Booking.com for Business can help you bring together teams (if located in different offices) and meet with your clients. As a free business travel platform, Booking.com for Business is here to take care of your business travel trip from start to finish, while making sure your travel policy is followed, budgets are being respected and corporate travelers are happy.

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