For many of us who are used to working with global team members, video calls have been a part of our daily lives for many years. We are used to the imperfections around spotty connections, barking dogs, and the general din of people’s home offices with the ultimate goal of collaboration and face time. At the onset of COVID-19, many businesses that were used to in-person meetings had no choice but to integrate more video call technology to help keep their teams safe and connected.
While a running corporate joke has been “this meeting could have been an email,” the pandemic seems to have produced some positive results when it comes to virtual meetings. A few of the positive impacts include the following.
Better Attendance: For many organizations, even pre-pandemic, gathering the entire global team was often difficult due to travel constraints, costs, and timing. With COVID-19’s impacts bolstering virtual meetings and conferences, more people are attending meetings than ever before. According to Nature.com, a group of scientists were polled about their feelings on virtual conferences. A resounding 74% responded positively to virtual meetings’ accessibility and want to continue them even long after the pandemic ends. Their reasoning was simple; many of these scientists also had work and family obligations that ramped up significantly with all of COVID-19’s ramifications (e.g., virtual school) and would have precluded them from joining their team at a conference. Being able to attend these conferences from home (across all industries) has opened the door for new possibility and ease.
Better Opportunity for Accessibility: Companies have the opportunity with platforms like Zoom to make meetings even more accessible than before. With options like closed captioning, spotlighting ASL interpreters, sending resources via email ahead of time, and describing visuals and annotations as you go, the possibility for all employees to take in information and participate can greatly increase.
Better Preparedness: We’re all human. Sometimes we print the wrong version of the slide deck to hand out, spill coffee on our meeting notes, or forget a critical spreadsheet with data. While all of these are forgivable for the most part, a Duke Today article cited a professor who stated there was a greater comfort in having the data right there on your computer while presenting to teams at a conference. As we continue to evolve and adapt to group meetings, these “interruptions” are now perceived as normal occurrences and are less distracting than in-person snafus.
Better for the Environment: Obviously, travel is a necessary component in the relocation industry, but the increase in virtual meetings is a direct benefit to the climate. According to Knowable Magazine, “Travel has an enormous impact on climate. In one estimate published in Nature, air travel to a single scientific meeting — the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, attended by 28,000 people from around the world — generated the equivalent of 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide, the average amount emitted by the entire city of Edinburgh over the course of a week.” Even shaving a few conferences back to virtual webinars has huge impacts on carbon footprint.
Continue Virtual Meetings or Return to Face-to-Face?
Ultimately, the way meetings continue in the future is largely up to each organization. While virtual meetings are working for the time being, they are no replacement for face-to-face connections.
When everyone is together in-person working from an office, there is added collaboration, visibility to leadership, and those “idea sparked walking down that hall” moments.
But this doesn’t mean virtual meetings have to be viewed as a concession. Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering” and host of the New York Times’ Podcast “Together Apart” recently wrote an essay entitled “How We Should Meet? And Who Decides?” where she delves into years of researching what makes gatherings effective. She interviewed various people in all types of businesses (think everything from judicial proceedings to hockey coaches) and discussed what made sense for their meetings and what made them feel the most connected. The critical piece was identifying why they were meeting and what format looked best for them. Her advice boils down to examining what makes sense culturally for your organization and getting buy-in from the employee base doing the meetings to see what’s going to sustain in the long run.
Her final quote is a thought-provoking and impactful one: “We have an unusual moment to experiment with the workplace. These moments don’t come along often and don’t stay open long. Let’s seize this occasion to reinvent.”