Face to Face versus Online


Not that long ago most meetings were face-to-face. There were a few conference calls but generally people used to like to “eyeball” each other.

Technology has changed that. VOIP and online meeting software allows users to see each other, download and view the same documents and even instant message each other during the meeting, so face-to-face meetings are no longer the only choice. The question remains, are face-to-face meetings still better? The answer is that it depends.

Face-to-Face Meetings

The economy has changed and one of the first budgets cut is usually travel. However, according to a recent article by Forbes Magazine, eight out of ten business executives say that they prefer face-to-face meetings. Eighty-five percent of respondents said that a face-to-face meeting helped them build more meaningful and stronger business relationships and a majority added that working face-to-face had the benefit of allowing them to read the body language and facial expressions of other participants.

In addition, a face-to-face meeting allowed for additional social interaction, which led to a higher sense of bonding with the client as well as their co-workers. Survey respondents also said that face-to-face meetings are better tools for persuasion, engagement, decision-making, leadership and accountability.

Virtual Meetings

Not everyone in the Forbes survey agreed, however. Over 15 percent of the survey respondents said that they preferred virtual meetings and of those who preferred technology-enabled meetings, the reasons why included the fact that online meetings save time and money, allow for greater flexibility in terms of scheduling and location, allows the businessperson to multitask instead of focusing solely on the meeting, thus increasing productivity. Other respondents said virtual or VOIP meetings were best when time was a concern, as was the dissemination of data.

Drawbacks

There are drawbacks to each type of meeting. Over 60 percent of those surveyed said that they traveled less for business now than in 2008. Only three percent said they traveled “much more frequently” now. Over 42 percent of respondents said that their companies had increasingly turned to technology to accomplish meetings since January 2008.

While a large majority (84 percent) of executives stated that they still prefer face-to-face meetings, attending these meetings means sacrifices in terms of money and time. While time is always sparse for most business executives, in this difficult economy, money is even less available, it seems. As such, face-to-face meetings are often counterproductive in terms of ROI. Nevertheless, virtual meetings have drawbacks as well. Over 50 percent of those surveyed said that they spend their time during virtual meetings doing things like surfing the internet, reading other materials, checking email and doing other work.

Virtual meetings also fail to provide certain expectations for raising and meeting trust and maintaining personal relationships.

Conclusion The answer is to find a balance between face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings in order to handle the needs of the budget as well as the needs of the company. Fifty-four percent of the survey respondents agreed, saying that the ideal meeting strategy included an “even balance” of both face-to-face and virtual meetings.

How to Choose There are several considerations when it comes to figuring out whether you want a face-to-face or a virtual meeting:

1. Time 

If the meeting is going to be quick (less than a day in scope), then the meeting can probably be performed online.

2. Costs Involved 

When a meeting can occur at a mutually agreeable and budget-friendly location and more than one day of material is present, a face-to-face meeting should be considered.

3. Topic at Hand

Sometimes the topic of discussion is of the utmost priority and of a sensitive nature. In this case, budget and time constraints usually fall far short of the fact that meeting face-to-face will allow confidential discussion and the intimacy that meeting in person brings.

4. Content 

If the content and material of the meeting is more important than the people brought together around the table are, it is time to bring out the technology and allow everyone to download the information.

How to Decide When in doubt, take each meeting as it comes. Some meetings require the personal interaction and persuasion that only face-to-face meetings can provide. Others can be accomplished through a virtual environment, with documents available for downloading, stored and viewed later by participants. In addition, sometimes a meeting can start with a virtual discussion, followed by a smaller, more intimate discussion once the project, idea or challenge progresses and movement is necessary by the executives. There are also other ways of handling a difficult budget, such as limiting travel for those other than the highest executives or establishing travel limits so that individuals must prioritize their meetings and determine which ones should be performed in person and which ones can be done online.

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