Brief encounters: Have face to face meetings had their day?

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For many years, discussions around environmental issues have highlighted a trend in modern business – the unnecessary journey. Was that meeting absolutely essential and did it have to be conducted face to face? But in the vast majority of cases, it was deemed essential, as that’s how business works and that’s how meetings work. But there’s been a massive change in emphasis in the last 12 months in where we work and how we work. With working from home and the rise of online conferencing platforms, have in-person meetings finally had their day?

Working apart

With some staff returning, albeit part-time, to the office space, it feels like things are getting back to some kind of normal. But certain work practices implemented for WFH have actually turned out to be advantageous to many people. A long commute for some has not been missed, for example. Nor the ‘getting ready for work’ routine in a morning, that involved actually getting dressed properly.

But other work formalities have changed too, such as in-person business meetings. The advent of online conferencing has enabled many people to carry on their office jobs much as normal. They have been able to have team meetings, to meet new clients and even generate new business. They have been able to see people ‘in the flesh’ (onscreen), rather than over a phone call, and they have even conducted interviews and hired personnel for new jobs.

The bigger picture

But think of the wider impact of that for a moment. These meetings can be achieved from your own home. There is no costly commute, there is no environmental impact from whatever mode of transport would have carried you to the meeting, and most of all, there’s no precious time wasted travelling to and from the meeting. Remember this can be a trip down a motorway in the UK, but just as easily be a flight to mainland Europe or in fact anywhere in the world. Of course, there’s still the same prep time needed before an online meeting and analysis of the outcomes afterwards. But if the same results can be achieved without having to do all those other things, what is the point of meeting face to face?

With purpose and outcomes

Well, there are also many people who believe in-person meetings remain an essential part of the business landscape. This is especially true if you are meeting new clients or employees. You can get a much better handle on a person’s true nature – confidence, ability, presence, personability – when you meet them in real life, than you would from through a screen or monitor. The fact is that meetings in the future need to be more purposeful. They need to have a defined agenda with an essential and necessary purpose.

What will actually happen, like the office/home working, is there will be a more flexible, hybrid model. If in-person meetings are to continue (and I’m a strong advocate for them to carry on in some form) then there needs to be a definite reason and business case for it to take place – a true justification of the impact it has on other areas of our working lives.

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