Virtual Meetings vs. Face-to-Face Meetings: Why You Need Both

During the pandemic, most professionals became very accustomed to virtual meetings. For example, Zoom had 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 but by April 2020, the number had spiked to over 300 million. Other video conferencing platforms saw comparable increases. As the pandemic eased, businesses and professionals began to return to the office and reinitiate face-to-face meetings in varying degrees. 

Meetings Remain a Challenge for Businesses

Meetings remain a top complaint for many businesses. Over two-thirds of workers say they spend too much time in meetings. A new workplace study on meetings by Otter found that employees spend nearly 18 hours in meetings per week, and the frequency of those meetings increased with managerial roles. Of the time spent in meetings, 12 hours were critical for workers to attend, while 5.7 hours were not necessary; employees simply needed to be kept in the loop.

Workers certainly feel they are wasting hours of time in meetings. Nearly half say they have too many unnecessary meetings on their calendars. The same study by Otter also found that companies spend about $80,000 per employee annually and could save $25,000 each year if they cut back on unnecessary meeting attendance. For a small business with 10 employees, this equates to $250,000. Increase the employee count to 50, and annual savings increase to $1.25M. Wow!

Benefits of Face-to-Face vs. Virtual Meetings 

Beyond reducing the number of meetings employees attend, determining whether to schedule them as a face-to-face or virtual meeting is important. There are various meeting types, and some are served much better by virtual meetings while others are better fits for face-to-face meetings. Following is a review of the benefits for using face-to-face vs. virtual meetings. 

Evaluating the Costs of Meetings 

The cost for virtual meetings is dramatically less than face-to-face meetings in general. Even if a business has permanent meeting space, the cost of that real estate must be factored into the overall cost of each face-to-face meeting. Virtual meetings require a subscription to one of the SaaS-based virtual video conferencing solutions like Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, and others. This pales in comparison to the cost of a face-to-face meeting.

Meeting Participant Engagement

Research shows that certain psychological dynamics are possible in face-to-face meetings versus virtual meetings. Body language and gestures are difficult to ascertain in virtual meetings. The same research also shows that participants report feeling less motivation to engage both behaviorally and cognitively when participating in a virtual meeting. In particular, video conferencing tends to limit participants’ ability to understand the social dynamics of the group and know who is looking at who during the meeting.

Avoiding Meeting Distractions

Participants in virtual meetings tend to multitask much more than those in face-to-face meetings and get distracted by incoming email and texts. These diminish engagement and meeting outcomes. 

Sticking to a Schedule and Staying on Topic—and Remaining Productive

Virtual meetings tend to make it easier for meeting organizers to keep participants on topic and stay on time. This is particularly useful when a meeting is on a tight schedule. For face-to-face meetings, rooms are often booked back to back, so going over time isn’t an option. Side conversations in face-to-face meetings can also get a meeting off topic very quickly. These are much less likely to occur with virtual meetings.

Sustaining Energy

Virtual meeting fatigue is a problem—especially during the pandemic. Yet, it remains problematic even with many businesses and solopreneurs reconvening face-to-face meetings earlier this year. Paying attention is more difficult when attending a virtual meeting, and background noises and technological issues can be frustrating and quickly deflate the energy in a virtual meeting environment. 

Setting Up Face-to-Face and Virtual Meetings for Success

Both face-to-face and virtual meetings have their pros and cons. They also can serve different purposes and use cases. The question on which one to use is not either/or but rather both. To achieve a successful meeting, organizers and participants need to focus on the following according to a recent article in Small Group Research: “When structured well, meetings can provide a forum for creative thinking, discussion, debate, information sharing, problem solving, and decision making. They can also help organizations meet important employee socio-emotional needs such as empowerment, engagement, affiliation, and perceptions of supervisor support.”

So, with that in mind, what are a few things that can make face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings successful? 

Turning on Your Camera

It is important for participants to leave their cameras on when attending meetings. 55% of communication is visual and while there might be circumstances that require your video to be off, you need to turn it on in the majority of instances. Non-verbal cues are as critical as the spoken word and foster a sense of trust and collaboration.

Stagger Meetings 

The importance of showing up on time to a meeting really applies for both face-to-face and virtual meetings. When a meeting is interrupted due to participants straggling in late, a meeting can lose momentum very quickly and the engagement of participants can easily dissipate. 

Meeting organizers also need to be cognizant that their meeting is likely not the only one participants are attending for the day and should leave a small time buffer before the top or bottom of the hour so meeting attendees can make their next meeting on time and make quick trips to the restroom. While individual meeting organizations can make note of this issue, entire organizations should consider implementing a policy that meetings end five minutes before the top or bottom of the hour for this very reason.

Set an Agenda

Failure to set an agenda in advance of a meeting—preferably with the meeting invite—also can position a meeting for failure right out of the gate. Meeting participants need to know why the meeting was called, what objectives exist, and what responsibilities are expected of each participant. 

Prohibit Multitasking

Those who multitask in a meeting—both face-to-face and virtual—aren’t giving their utmost attention to the meeting and others in attendance. Not only is this disrespectful and rude, but it is viewed negatively by other meeting participants and serves as a distraction. Meeting organizers should prohibit multitasking and learn different tactics to identify instances when someone is multitasking in a virtual meeting. Businesses should establish the no-multitasking rule and enforce it accordingly.

Position Your Camera Correctly

Too many virtual meeting participants have their cameras positioned so that they are partially hidden or at the bottom of the screen. Participants should tilt their cameras so their heads are near the top of the screen and they fill the screen. They should also check to make sure they have adequate lighting in the area and, if not, purchase some office lighting to rectify the issue.

Don’t Eat During Meetings

If a meeting occurs and lunch and all participants are expected to eat lunch during the meeting, then this doesn’t apply. Lunch sessions where team’s concurrently eat are perfectly fine and actually serve team-building purposes. But having some eating and others not eating during a meeting can be a distraction and actually come across as unprofessional. TIP! If someone does need to eat lunch due to back-to-back meetings, those who are attending virtually may want to turn off their camera while eating. 

Mute When Not Speaking

Participants who fail to mute themselves when they aren’t speaking can disrupt a meeting very quickly if they have background noise that drowns out or competes with the person speaking. Those who fail to mute themselves can become very irritating when they step away from their desk for a second or field an incoming call. 

Find the Right Meeting Room for Hybrid Scenarios

Not all meeting rooms are set up for hybrid participant scenarios. For businesses with permanent meeting space, you need to ensure you have video conferencing capabilities. For businesses relying on rented meeting rooms, you need to look for a provider like Davinci Meeting Rooms that has video conferencing and collaboration built into its meeting room space. 

Locate a Meeting Room to Address On-site Requirements

Other requirements often arise in the case of face-to-face meetings. For example, customer, prospect, and board meetings often involve participants who may not be familiar with the area where the meeting is taking place. Lobby greeters can answer their questions and point them in the right direction. In other instances, participants may need help photocopying or faxing documents. Rented meeting room providers like Davinci Meeting Rooms have administrative support. The same is true when it comes to catering beverages and food. 

Successful Face-to-Face and Virtual Meetings Translate to Competitive Advantage

Meetings remain a critical business function and organizations that achieve meeting success hold a competitive advantage. Their employees are more productive, they build consensus faster, collaborate more effectively, and innovate faster. In today’s hybrid work world, this means businesses must seamlessly execute both face-to-face and virtual meetings. 


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