Online vs. Offline Meetings: When to Use Which?
A phenomenon that’s not as easy to notice has been reshaping how we do business and daily operations. It’s the slow and gradual transition of daily meetings from offline to online – both in negotiations with other companies and within our organization. Nowadays, many businesses are global, and teams work together on projects even when they are located in different parts of the world – and consequently in different time zones. A perfect example would be software development outsourcing, where the development team and the client could be continents apart.
And in general, we’ve seen a rapid move away from face-to-face meetings to video conference stand-ups, from crowded office buildings to home offices, and – last but not least – from local and in-room meeting participants to flexible, remote international teams. The pandemic has only accelerated this change.
On the other hand, people crave connections! And of course, those connections could begin with an online conversation on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Yet, the only way for them to turn into real, dynamic, and lively connections is through face-to-face meetings in the flesh. Sure, later on, they could return to online channels and stay in touch for years, meeting online and offline over months and years. However, offline meetings are the catalysts that forge acquaintances into memorable and lasting connections.
The twist in this blogpost is that we will not deal with the cons of each meeting type. Indeed, they both have their difficulties (e.g., technical issues with a video conference, timing and availability problems with face-to-face meetings), yet it is more important when to use which and for what reasons than what might be some handicaps encountered along the way.
So with that said, let’s see when and where online and offline serve your business the best!
The Advantages of Online Meetings
The answer is quite obvious: you can implement it from the confines of your home or office, and it’s pretty likely that the participants are much more readily available. The relief of not dealing with travel times (whether in the same city, between cities or between countries!) is enormous and can speed up the early stages of sales negotiations.
Benefiting from Digital Advantages
There are several valid reasons why enterprises shift to remote work and virtual or hybrid meetings. First of all, there is cost-saving. They are saving on travel and hours lost with travel, thus gaining efficiency and productivity on the work floor.
Such a train of thought could also lead to the logical conclusion of lowering costs by implementing home officing, which could also involve the developing trend of making more conscious, environmental, and sustainable choices in business. So why not reduce travel and the carbon footprint in one go? Enterprises today want to be green on all levels. Additionally, HR departments are also very concerned about the well-being of their employees, as they set up solutions to prevent burn-out. They try to accomplish that by reducing employees’ stress levels stemming from commuting or facilitating a better work-life balance with flexible work hours and locations.
The question of remote workers’ engagement in meetings is quite debated. On the one hand, it could seem like they are not always relevant. However, there is a greater consensus that the presence of technology makes meetings more engaging. Large displays coupled with screen sharing and video can lead to a more engaging environment for participants. There is no doubt that technology has become a vital element in meetings. And its importance will only increase as younger, tech-savvy generations enter the workplace, making remote sessions the default in the workspace.
Are Video Calls the Future?
Half of all meetings (53%) today already include remote participants. And this number is only likely to swell over the years. Over three quarters (77%) state that video will be standard in meetings within the next three years, with India (94%) and China (91%) leading the charge.
Another development is that participants are not keen on audio conferencing for meetings happening in ‘huddle spaces’ – non-bookable workspaces for small, impromptu meetings. Nearly nine in ten (88%) prefer using video over audio in huddle spaces, rising to 93% in the case of Gen Z. Employees are becoming more and more confident digitally, which makes them prone to working remotely and using video to collaborate.
As the popularity of remote meetings continues to grow, it becomes crucial for organizations to have a conference solution ready that everyone can work with. And video is at the heart of any such excellent solutions. Add to the fact that everyone in a meeting room can bring their camera along with their devices where all necessary materials are available to be shared instantly, and you have yourself a fast and efficient working and negotiating environment.
Of course, remote meetings today often experience hiccups, and the challenges ahead of video conferencing are still numerous. We’ve often felt that it’s harder for remote meeting participants in a conference call to follow the meeting and contribute than for those attending in-room. A study from last year put the percentage of people feeling that way to 55%, while 45% feels less important when joining remotely and 43% even felt frustrated or disengaged! Losing connection, difficulties in hearing all participants, waiting time, too much small talk, problems with screen sharing, poor video quality or background noise, and the list goes on. We’ve all experienced them!
Nowadays, scheduling meetings is far more complex than booking a room and deciding on a meeting leader, agenda, or talking points. Tech, video, and meeting tools rule the virtual world. Still, opportunities and challenges to improve and facilitate truly engaging remote team meetings are available.
The Advantages of Offline Meetings
As we’ve said at the beginning of this blog post, we people want connections to be authentic and tangible. We can associate more positive feelings and insights when the person we’re talking to is just on the other side of the table, and we can see their reactions, laugh with them and hear their voice resound in the same space where we are.
Being in such a more personal, more intimate environment is the best way to gauge a prospect’s feelings and adapt quickly and efficiently to arising challenges in the negotiations. Allowing the prospect to see and hear you, proving that you are a likable, flesh-and-blood human being is another excellent way to instill confidence and sympathy in them.
The Limits of Technology
As we’ve established when discussing what’s good about online meetings, it is known that technology can bridge huge distances between colleagues. Yet they often lack the sensitivity of face-to-face meetings, where we can see people roll their eyes, tap their fingers in frustration, or stifle a smile. At the same time, some entrepreneurs may dislike online meetings, especially those born before the start of the IT revolution.
How a person stands, sprawls on a chair, or crosses their arms says a lot about their thinking. If there is no video, then none of that comes through, and even in the case of a video conference, such sublime signs are easily missed. To gauge a person’s mood and how authoritative – or meek – they are during the negotiation, we have to be there and see those body language giveaways for ourselves. That way, we have a much better chance of reacting appropriately to shift the meeting – and our likability as well as negotiating position – to our advantage.
Fun Brainstorming Sessions
The best ideas often come during a more relaxed, fun brainstorming session. We believe that such can only occur during offline meetings, where people talk, interrupt, laugh, whisper, and have a good time! Social media can provide a solid introduction to start a connection. Still, that connection will remain cold and possibly uninspiring until you have tried sitting down with that person in the same room and talking with them extensively.
We would list some or many of our face-to-face meetings, conventions, events where we could engage with a prospect or partner in lengthy conversations, but we are sure you have the same experiences. So why not just evoke the feelings and remind you of how many memorable memories come from the times when you spend some time with a prospect or business acquaintance in the flesh? It’s a little difficult to describe; however, face-to-face is terrific. The ability to connect with people around you and receive instant, almost tangible feedback drives the conversation forward and helps flesh out details and smooth over tensions or disagreements.
Also, consider this: a great brunch, lunch, or business dinner, no matter how long ago it happened, leaves a strong impression in all involved parties that they will all remember. Could a Facebook message, an email thread, or a tweet go that far? Or video conference?
To summarize our views on the debate about online versus offline meetings and put things into perspective: both are good in the niches where they should be applied to further a project or negotiation. In this case, we would highly recommend opting to use online in the early stages of the sales cycle. Its best utility lies in qualifying leads and generally gauging how receptive they are to our offers and our services.
However, once we are past the qualification phase, it is time to move the connection forward and sit down with the client or the prospective partners in the flesh. Any remaining unclear parts about the cooperation or the services rendered can be cleared up. Furthermore, it’s just the best way to get to know the people you will be working with; seeing and hearing them face-to-face will give you much insight into their personality, eventually leading to a smoother work experience and cooperation. Real-life meetings drive business, as they are about how you make your negotiations partners feel. For us, meeting in person has led to more solid connections and more business.
And as for project meetings in general, we suggest a mix of both. In the case of home officing, online meetings to discuss daily to-dos and status updates are perfect. And we should also not be afraid to lean in more heavily on them in uncertain times like these. Don’t worry, the prospect will be perfectly okay with a few check-in calls between real-life meetings!