During 2020 many of us learned what work-from-home veterans already knew - virtual meetings can be highly effective.
And yet, the deluge of video calls has also confirmed something office warriors understand. Namely, there are important aspects of an in-person meeting that a virtual environment can not provide.
When you schedule a team meeting, what should you do? Do you make everyone commute or should you let them stay at home in a business shirt and pajama bottoms?
The answer is, it depends.
To determine the proper location, follow these two steps.
First, answer this question: What does a "win" look like for this meeting? Take time to write this out.
Then, consider what you gain in each environment.
NOTE: Obviously, when safety is a concern go virtual. This post assumes a hybrid working model during a time when health concerns are low.
What You Gain in an In-Person Meeting
In the summer of 2020 social media was abuzz with users wondering why we all wave at the end of virtual meetings. Only a group of crazy people would wave wildly at one another to conclude a face to face meeting, yet we cannot stop ourselves from waving at the camera with one hand as we use the other to direct our cursor to the "X" in the corner of the screen.
Northeastern University body language expert, Laura Dudley, says our waving is a result of lost social cues and a hunger for human interaction. When we meet in person we signal the end of a meeting by closing a notebook, standing up, or looking at the clock. These things are lost when you can only see someone from the shoulders up. Being separated physically from others unable to see them from the shoulders down creates a hunger for connection and a feeling of disconnection. It also increases the likelihood that a statement will be misinterpreted.
Water Cooler Talk
The conversation around the conference room before and after a meeting seemed like casual chit-chat, but it turns out it's quite valuable. In these conversations we connect with one another and casually move projects forward with simple questions like, "what did you think of Sarah's email?" With participants clicking directly into and out of meetings these moments are lost.
After a meeting in the office people linger to ask follow-up questions or share a thought there was not time for in the meeting. As the leader of the meeting this gives you the chance to gain immediate feedback as to the effectiveness of the meeting and decide how to appropriately follow up. When everyone leaves a virtual meeting you are left silently looking at a screen with a succinct message - "the host has ended the meeting." You can find yourself wondering if the meeting was effective and confused around your next steps.
Whiteboards and Post-it Notes
Simply put, when brainstorming ideas, nothing beats teams standing up at the whiteboard and hashing things out.
What You Gain in a Virtual Meeting
Indeed, there are gains in an in-person environment, but there is also much gained in the virtual environment as well.
It is hard to argue with the efficiency of a virtual meeting.
During the pandemic I saved up to two hours a day not commuting and the days of flying and Ubering are now productive work days. In addition to the time, there is money saved that used to go to gas, plane tickets, and hotels.
The Mute Button
Remember when you were presenting in that meeting and some rude co-worker was tapping away on their keyboard. It was distracting everyone and you thought to yourself, "I wish I could just mute them." Now you can!
Virtual meetings provide unique opportunities to engage in what is being presented. PowerPoint slides with small font, projected by aging machines to the front of a poorly lit conference room gives you a headache, but sharing your screen virtually ensures everyone can see clearly.
The Chat, Annotations, and Breakout Rooms
Side conversations in an in-person meeting are a killer, but with the chat feature participants can easily answer questions, give feedback, and privately message their notes to one another without disruptively whispering during a presentation.
The annotation features give participants a quick and unique way to engage in the meeting. Rather than going around the room and asking for everyone's option, they can quickly respond right on the screen. In addition, breaking up the meeting into breakout rooms with a simple click is an effective way to increase engagement and get new ideas on the table.
A Final Note
As a leader, before you decide on the location of your meeting, you must understand the purpose of your meeting and the value of each environment.
If the goal of the meeting is to give information or move a project forward, a virtual meeting is effective. Don't make everyone come into the office because it makes you feel better as the leader. Let them stay home.
If the goal of the meeting is to brainstorm ideas or grow relationships within the team nothing beats an in-person meeting.
At the end of the day, keep trying new things and evaluating. The truth is all of us are doing our best to navigate this new working environment.