The rise of digital meeting tools has sparked the debate between face to face and virtual meetings. There is no clean cut verdict on which type of meeting is better, but rather they both offer their own advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is to identify the appropriate type of meeting given the situation. The way that two parties choose to collaborate, namely via in person or virtual meetings, has a major effect on how productive the engagement is.
Certain topics require a more intimate meeting where the focus needs to be on the discussion occurring within the walls of the room whereas other things require more informal quick conversations often times over long distances. A recent Fast Company article outlines some of the benefits of face to face meetings such as gaining trust, paying more attention, and picking up hidden messages which all fit nicely into encounters where the discussion is centered around initial meetings, project proposals, or portions of projects that require more abstract thinking. In person meetings allow attendees to express themselves through things one doesn’t get with virtual meetings such as body language and facial expression. Being able to shake hands with a person has a profound effect on this cultivation of trust.
Alternatively, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, the author outlines some of the benefits of virtual meetings such as solving specific problems, time problems, distance problems, and deadline problems. All of these benefits lend themselves to meetings centered around quickly finding solutions to solve project problems that are specific and small in nature but might have large impacts on the overall process. The ability to connect with people from all parts of the world with the click of a button has revolutionized how companies do business, but not without its own shortcomings. A main issue with virtual meetings is that they can be less productive when it comes to discussion and collaboration due to the flow of conversations being much different than face to face conversations. Digital meetings become less fluid and free and become more rigid and systematic. Strategically making use of the different types of meetings can have large impacts on the overall productivity of the project.
In our client engagements we make use of both in person and virtual meetings. In our initial meeting with a client we meet face to face to get an understanding of their needs, present our proposal and plan for the project. Meeting in person and interacting on a more personal level allows us to build trust and the foundation for the relationship moving forward. We typically have a few more in person meetings to discuss the project at a high level and in two all day meetings are able to complete a week or two’s worth of work.
After the in person meetings we travel back to our office, roll our sleeves up, and get to work. The next few meetings are virtual, it is where we review where we are with the project and gather feedback. Since we are on the same page with the client as far as the overall vision for the project is concerned, not much in depth discussion is needed on these calls and we can focus on their feedback and the changes needed to be made. This gives us the ability to churn out the updated version of the project and then within minutes jump on a virtual meeting to review the updates and gather feedback, which allows us to keep the client up to date every step of the way and ultimately deliver them an amazing product that they love.
The key to our success was the order and mode in which we met, first face to face and then remotely. Starting the engagement with a face to face meeting allowed us to introduce ourselves in person and learn more about the client than we would have if we met virtually. It also allowed them to connect the people on our team with our company which started a more intimate relationship. After getting to know each other in person, the virtual meetings that followed became less formal and more fluid which helped us offer solutions to their feedback that we knew would be in line with their thinking.
The chosen medium for collaboration should be based upon which option offers the best chance to achieve the engagement’s goals and not what is most convenient for both parties. If the goal is to build relationships or discuss high level project plans, a face to face meeting is better suited to accomplish these goals whereas if the goal is to review small details or give direction to members of your team, a virtual meeting will suffice.