The assertion is that face- to-face meetings are no longer relevant or needed, given the number of communication technologies available. Email is used to exchange basic ideas, conference calls and Skype are used for audio exchanges and video conference is used to get small and large groups dialoguing. But surely, there must be a middle of the road.
Jacqui Keep says in “Face-to-Face Meetings – are they still necessary?” “The amount of time and money we as an economy spend on pointless face-to-face meetings is staggering and unnecessary.” For example, six team members who meet five hours each over one month for one idea can cost over $10,000, with no guarantee of return on investment. In addition, face-to-face meetings induce the stress of travel, having to find accommodations and venues and managing time. These meetings also interrupt concentration and prevent employees from completing daily tasks.
Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brent Arslaner, in “Virtual Meetings Will Erase Face to Face,” says, “In these tough economic times, advancing technologies are making virtual events not only a less expensive replacement for physical meetings but also a superior one. Why do we have meetings and events?1) to exchange information; and 2) to network. Virtual meeting and event technology can facilitate these two objectives easily. This means saving 50% to 80% by wiping out the costs of venue rental, hotel rooms, transportation, and packing and shipping displays…The convenience, increased productivity, and cost savings of hosting virtual events make them an inevitable replacement for physical events.”
On the other side, Rene Shimada Siegel of Inc. says in “5 Reasons You Need to Meet in Person,” that face-to-face meetings are essential in reading live body language, even if video is used. “We host consultant coffees and invite a handful of independent consultants to our office in order to better understand the nuances of each professional in a relaxed setting…In their eyes and in their body language, we can see confidence, empathy, fear, friendliness or sincerity.”
And Arslaner says, “Human face-to-face interaction is, and will continue to be, the most effective form of communication. It’s simple. Live meetings deliver the rich, potent experiences that virtual meetings can’t. They deliver motivation along with messaging, and inspiration with information.”
The answer is to focus on reducing meetings by strategic planning and using face-to-face meetings as a last resort. Here are five steps to reach the goal of decreasing cost and increasing productivity.
- Start by articulating ideas clearly in day-to-day communications. Face-to-face meetings often appear necessary when there is a disconnect between individuals and departments. Focused interaction, both verbally and electronically, can save time in determining whether a live or electronic meeting is warranted. The clearer the initial ideas are presented, the less likely a face-to-face is necessary.
- Narrow down key players. Not everyone has to be included in continuous communications. In fact, the broader the team, the more complicated and confusing the ideas can become. The general rule is, don’t CC people who don’t need to be on the recipient list.
- Synthesize ideas into a plan. This will require someone take the lead, assemble ideas into something manageable and concrete and disseminate the material to concerned parties.
- Schedule a video conference. A video conference is preferable to just voice in that facial expressions are visible. That said, video also has its limitations, especially when an organization does not have access to the right kind of technology. If this is the case, a verbal conference can be used, but participants should pay attention to cues like tone of voice.
- Run a pilot. Once key players decide on the plan, it can be implemented within a small group. If assessed accurately through metrics and detailed data collection, the pilot can show whether the plan will be successful on a larger scale. This data collection can often sell an idea more easily than the average person. If the pilot is successful, the face-to-face meeting is probably unnecessary, and the plan can be implemented on a larger scale.
There will be times when a face-to-face meeting is necessary, but those times can be significantly reduced. There’s nothing wrong with trying an idea before investing in a full-blown meeting. In the end, managers and employees will appreciate the opportunity to contribute to decision making processes without the burden of a live meeting.
Stephen Trask, MT, works with clients seeking to improve innovation, data analysis and engagement of customers or employees. He provides ideas and rationale for these articles.
Katherine Gotthardt, M.Ed., is a writer and editor. She is CEO of All Things Writing, LLC.