Virtual or face-to-face: business meetings of the future

Male and female working on laptop

If video calls with colleagues or clients have become a part of your new normal, the chances are you’re not alone. From Zoom to Google Hangouts, companies around the world have turned to technology to keep their employees connected and their clients engaged, especially during lockdowns.  

So as businesses start planning for a post-COVID ‘new normal’, has this very 21st century lockdown changed the working landscape forever? Will business meetings of the future stay virtual, or could a return to face-to-face be the key to getting companies back on their feet? 

Male in an online meeting

A virtual lockdown

Flexible, time-saving and environmentally friendly, video meetings have been an essential part of previous lockdowns. No boardroom? No problem. Guest appearances from your colleagues’ children? No worries. Weeks of social distancing have forced us to shift our expectations and get used to more casual video calls.

Now rules are lifted, companies will find themselves asking whether they should continue this virtual approach. After all, few calls are without their technical issues. They also require more focus; we need to work harder to process facial expressions, tone of voice and body language, often resulting in ‘Zoom fatigue’ [1], and time delays can make the responder seem less friendly or focused [2].

Above all, with even the best technology at our fingertips weeks of social isolation have taught us how much we value – and miss - face-to-face communication.

The best chance of revival

When companies move into a post-lockdown phase, remote working and video meetings won’t disappear overnight. Some businesses are already planning to move towards a completely home working environment.

In-person meetings will, therefore, become a hot topic. No longer taken for granted, the role of face-to-face meetings, their importance and the value they bring to the company will need to be weighed against the wellbeing of travellers and the benefits of continuing a virtual approach. These will be hard decisions, but for the best chance of a post-COVID revival businesses must allow a (phased) return to face-to-face meetings.

Face-to-face meeting

The value of face-to-face

Warmer and more personal than a video call, in-person meetings are an important step in building positive relationships with potential clients. The dynamics of face-to-face meetings also provide clearer direction than video calls and allow for more collaboration and better feedback.

The result? Face-to-face meetings generate a 40% prospect conversion rate [1] whilst in-person requests are 34 times more likely to get positive responses than emails [2]. What’s more, Great Business Schools estimate that over a quarter of current business would be lost without face-to-face meetings [3]. So when companies shift their focus towards post-lockdown revival, towards driving new business, growing their customer base and building stronger relationships with their current clients, face-to-face meetings will need to form a key part of any strategy. For it’s in driving long-term, successful business relationships that face-to-face meetings outperform any video call.

Getting your travellers back on the road

After weeks of home working and video calls, employees might find themselves questioning whether they really need to travel to meetings and how safe it will be. It’s therefore essential to make sure staff feel confident that their safety and wellbeing is prioritised. To prepare for a post-covid revival companies need to review any opportunities for travellers to minimise social contact, encourage them to travel via the most direct route and protect their wellbeing by taking a phased, gradual approach back to travel. Above all, travellers need to be listened to and asked about their concerns and confidence levels.

Male waiting with suitcase

A return to business growth

As companies plan ahead, decisions will need to be made around the necessity of travel. After all, video calls have played an essential role in keeping businesses running during lockdown. But when the benefits of face-to-face meetings are weighed against continuing a virtual approach, it’s in-person meetings that will give businesses their best chance to meet the challenges of a post-covid world and come out stronger. Business meetings of the future may well look different, but they won’t all be virtual.

Need help restarting your travel programme? Get in touch.

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