As 2020 progressed virtual meetings transformed from something we used to do every now and again to the mainstay of business communications. Whether it be sales, team collaboration, company information sessions, board meetings, AGMs etc everything went online.

What have we gained and what has been lost?

What are the advantages of virtual meetings?

1.            Get to the point

Virtual meetings are unlikely to be impromptu, you cannot just walk up to someone and start talking. Unlike many traditional office conversations and meeting virtual meetings require organisation, scheduling and usually have some form of agenda and structure. Virtual meetings are more focused and save time.

2.            Participants are equalized

Face to face meetings are often dominated by individuals whose physical presence creates a position of power. The power pose, overbearing handshake or leaning aggressively across the desk to make a point are not possible in a virtual meeting. Authority still has its place, but participants are less inhibited about contributing to the conversation.

3.            Room for more people

Many meetings were held in locations that required participants to travel and often individuals who may be able to contribute were excluded because of cost. No matter where individuals are located everyone can participate in a virtual meeting and more who have valuable input can be included. No one is excluded because the venue is too small.

4.            Commuting time becomes productive time

With travel time eliminated individuals can become more productive. In an office employees take lunch and coffee breaks while those working from home often work through lunch. The 9 to 5 mentality is replaced with more flexible schedules. Experience during 2020 is that the work still gets done.

5.            Reduced overheads

In 2020 most companies have seen large numbers of employees working remotely with no loss in productivity. So the question for the future is…

” Why rent large office spaces with furniture, IT infrastructure, housekeeping, mail services, receptionists, break rooms, and cafeterias?”

The costs are significant with most companies in commercial office spaces paying up to 35% of the total cost of each employee for these overhead activities.

Alternately what you save can be redeployed more effectively to hire people and grow your business.

6.            A wider range of employees from which to choose

Location and commuting time have prevented employers from employing individuals that would otherwise have been a valuable asset. Remote working and virtual meetings have made the potential employee work pool limitless.

7.            Increase in Morale

Employees working remotely have more time to spend with family and friends and do not feel pressured to leave the office late which all leads to a happier and productive employee.

8.            Minimized workplace risk

Employees that work remotely are less likely to experience workplace accidents, peer or management harassment or encounter communicable diseases all of which have positive ramifications for employers.

9.            What you wear has become less important

Power dressing has always been a part of corporate life and in many instances, individuals feel threatened by another who may be wearing a designer suit or expensive clothing or jewelry taking the focus away from why the meeting is being held. Webcams and head and shoulder shots with superimposed backdrops used for virtual meetings are an equalizer, who knows that below the nice top you are wearing you are in track pants and slippers?

10.            Time efficiency

Virtual meetings do not require travel time meaning that that time can be spent on productive tasks.

What are the disadvantages of virtual meetings?

Although there are numerous advantages to remote working and virtual meetings there are also downsides.

1.            The crucible of ideas

Many businesses and new ideas have started in informal ad-hoc meetings that occur in unplanned venues. Conversations spark actions that in turn can create revenue. Virtual meetings are not impromptu and are generally scripted to produce a known result.

2.            Challenges for attendees

taking an active role is harder when the meeting is virtual, particularly when groups are large. In person you can signal in different ways when you want to speak however, in virtual meetings you may only be able to raise a ‘hand’ to indicate you want to participate.

3.            The absence of a physical presence

For most of us body language is important and often critical in sales meetings. The virtual meeting with audio and limited visual this becomes more problematic.

4.            Internet Connections Can Fail

Everyone needs a good internet connection without lag for meetings to be dynamic and succeed. Poor signal strength can lead to disjointed or terminated meetings for some participants. Barring major disruptions most in person meetings will proceed normally.

5.            Different Time Zones

Large international meetings will require participants to join at a time that may be outside normal working hours. The set time of a virtual meeting will mean some will need to rearrange their personal schedules.

6.            The cost of software platforms

Virtual meetings are not free are likely to include software platform subscription costs and live streaming charges. This said it can still be a more cost-effective solution than bringing people together.

In conclusion

There are disadvantages associated with virtual meetings, however, the downsides are far outweighed by the benefits. Many existing management practices have focussed on what the employee does during the hours they are in the office. Virtual meetings and remote working allow managers to focus on results rather than actions.

Whatever you think, the virtual meeting is here to stay.