Video calls with colleagues, clients and even family members have become a standard way of life since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virtual meetings are flexible, time-saving and environmentally friendly. Many businesses have thrived as a result of reducing their office overheads and travel expenses.
So, as businesses plan for a post-pandemic ‘new normal’, will face-to-face meetings return, or should we encourage the continuation of the virtual meeting?
The impact of lockdown
At the start of the pandemic – once we figured out how to use Teams, Zoom and Google Hangouts – it could be easy to assume that face-to-face meetings would die out.
Setting up a meeting with a colleague, client, or prospect is now easier than ever. Generally, people now have access to their own diary (fewer gate-keepers), and you don’t have to factor in any travel time. You can now arrange to see a client on the other side of the country or world in a matter of minutes.
However, now that restrictions are easing, businesses should be asking themselves: should we continue with a virtual approach?
The convenience of a virtual meeting doesn’t always outweigh the value of meeting someone in person. Few calls are without their technical challenges. How many of us have uttered the phrase “you’re still on mute”. We’re also asking a lot of virtual meeting participants to remain 100% focused when they’re using the same device they work from – it’s so easy to become distracted by other things on the screen.
And after weeks of lockdown and social isolation, most of us are craving face-to-face communication.
The benefits of face-to-face interaction
Meeting someone in person can be an essential step in building positive relationships with our clients and prospects.
According to a recent study by Great Business Schools, 84% of people still say they prefer in-person meetings.
Having a conversation with someone face-to-face allows for a more fluid and dynamic exchange of ideas and collaboration. Unlike in a virtual meeting, we’re not subject to time delays that can make the responder seem less friendly or focused, and it’s harder to misinterpret essential non-verbal cues.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, once said; “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”.
To support this, think about your personal life. Virtual connections aren’t new. Facebook has been widely available in the UK since 2005, and there is an estimated 3.96 billion people who use social media worldwide, according to Backlinko. Yet, despite this overwhelming access to virtual connection alternatives, we still meet our friends in pubs, clubs and at the park.
Getting back out to business
Many businesses will soon face increased expectations of meeting in person, whether that expectation comes from a client, prospect or your staff.
Restrictions as a result of COVID-19 will likely be in place for a while yet, so it’s inadvisable to rush straight back into in-person meetings. We should all be careful and ease back into them to keep us and others safe. This is particularly important for owners of SMEs who stand to lose a lot if they become unwell.
However, all businesses should anticipate an increase in expenses. As restrictions ease, it’s unlikely remote working and video meetings will disappear overnight. However, any decisions to keep virtual working will need to be weighed against your wellbeing and the value of relationship building.
Those businesses looking to remain completely as a home working environment should seriously consider their employees’ mental wellbeing and the consequences of not having organic, free-flowing conversations.
Businesses who gave up offices at the start of the pandemic, but are now looking to move back, should consider a more hybrid working function (office/home-based working). This will help minimise overheads and maintain social distancing. You should also take into consideration your new office size, to ensure you can maintain social distancing – what used to be called a small office space or meeting room might now be too small.
How ETC can help
Over the past year, throughout the various stages of the pandemic, we’ve worked with businesses to help them create comprehensive ‘bounce back’ plans that outline how best to return to work and take advantage of new opportunities.
All the businesses we support found that an external, experienced consultant added real value to their return to work plans. Let us help you get back to business; please get in touch.
If you’re new to ETC, why not contact us for a free new business review? We’ll spend two hours with you, giving you professional coaching and will leave you with actions for immediate implementation.