Online or In-Person: What’s Your Meeting of Choice?

In organizational culture, meetings are like wheels on a car: nothing can move without them. In order to move forward, organizations rely on communication, collaboration, and task delegation. Meetings are crucial for initiating and reinforcing these three key elements.

From Top to Bottom

Meetings help top management navigate organizational strategy and steer business operations. In order to establish quarterly and annual objectives, management must meet with the board of directors. To delegate major tasks and monitor goal attainment, the CEO must hold regularly scheduled meetings with division heads.

Yet as we all know, meetings are not confined to the top floor alone. They are essential for kickstarting projects throughout all organizational tiers. To get things moving, professional teams are required to get together in a meeting room, brainstorm, establish an agenda, delegate tasks, and schedule follow-ups.

Making Meetings More Effective

Today’s technology has transformed the way organizations conduct meetings. Video communication and video conferencing enable businesses to conduct online meetings at the touch of a button with team members located on different office floors – and in different countries. All they need is a computer or a mobile device, an Internet connection and reliable video conferencing software, and the meeting can begin.

That said, many executives and team members still prefer to conduct meetings in person. They’re not old-fashioned. They simply feel that in-person meetings are more effective. For lack of any other option, they will conduct online meetings with remote personnel. But if they had to choose, they would bring everyone into the boardroom to discuss every single matter, big or small.

This raises the following questions: are in-person meetings really more effective than online meetings? What are the true advantages of online meetings? When should they be used, and when should they be avoided?

Listing the Pros and Cons

To help organizations understand the true difference between online and in-person meetings, we’ve composed a list of pros and cons. Let’s start with in-person meetings.

The Cons:

  • Transportation: if you’re located far away, a physical meeting means you have to get in your car and leave your office. This means you’ll spend more time on the road and less time working.   
  • Documentation: in-person meeting minutes must usually be recorded by a designated meeting member. This can take time and effort, and might result in omissions of important information.
  • Inefficient time management: many in-person meetings tend to stretch beyond the designated timeframe. It is not uncommon to hear team members complain that what was discussed for three hours could have been agreed upon in a half an hour.
  • Lack of flexibility: often in meetings, the need arises for external or remote team members to join at a moment’s notice. Meetings held at conference rooms which do not support video communication technology are limited to participants who have physical access to the meeting, leaving out stakeholders who may have major contributions to the matters being discussed.

The Pros:

  • Up close and personal: in-personmeetings allow everyone involved to evaluate their colleagues’ overall presence, including small behaviors and gestures that don’t always get picked up over the screen.
  • Less reliance on technology: when you’re in an in-person meeting, you’re less dependent on technology. Sure, you need electricity and perhaps an Internet connection to retrieve documents, but effectiveness is achieved mostly through interpersonal connections.
  • Post-meeting meetings: many key interactions occur after the main meeting is over, in the hallway or in nearby office room. People have a tendency to continue their train of thoughts with their peers elsewhere. Sometimes, these small brainstorming sessions can actually lead to eureka-moments.
  • Client preferences: many clients – especially first-time clients – prefer an initial in-person meeting, because they feel it is the best way to get to know the team that they are thinking about working with.

After listing the pros and cons of in-person meetings, let’s continue with the advantages and disadvantages of online meetings.

The Cons:

  • Complete dependency on technology: from the technological aspect, video conferencing is like a huge orchestra of instruments. Seamless meetings can be held only if the entire array of instruments performs flawlessly. A loss of Internet connection alone, for example, would require either a postponement or a cancellation of the meeting.
  • Less small talk: yes, this is a con. Pre-meeting and post-meeting small talk can be surprisingly effective and helpful. It helps participants break the ice and shoot ideas off one another.
  • Inappropriateness in certain occasions: video meetings might feel inappropriate in certain business contexts. Certain corporate events, such as annual board of director meetings, may be better executed in person rather than online.

The Pros:

  • Connecting remote teams: online meetings are a great way to get remote personnel simultaneously involved in team-related processes, without having to wait for a cross-country or cross-global commute to the main office. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Forbes, 72% of executives surveyed say video-conferencing builds trust and engagement, and 71% say it improves team performance.
  • Spontaneity: online meetings are designed for spontaneity, because all it takes to join a meeting is a click of a button. Video conferencing is ideal for on-the-spot emergency management and for situations that require immediate attention.
  • Powerful all-hands meetings: these company-wide gatherings significantly enhance the organizational culture and foster transparency and alignment across the organization. Online meetings are ideal for this kind of gatherings, making them much more engaging and interactive, and allowing anyone – near or far – to participate.
  • Cutback in resources: online meetings require no driving, no parking and no pre-meeting and post-meeting arrangements. All you need to do is log on and tune in.
  • Content and screen sharing: one of the great features of online meetings is fuss-free content sharing. Any participant can share any type of content at the touch of a button, with zero preparation. 
  • Easy recording: most video conferencing tools have an option for recording meetings, which is great for team members who want to recall what was said, by who, and in what context.

The Right Solution for Each Meeting

So, which is better, online or in-person? In certain occasions, as discussed above, in-person meetings are inevitable. In other more day-to-day scenarios, online meetings are the smartest and most business-efficient option. Our advice: identify what type of meeting is best suited to each type of business need, and have all the technological solutions ready for each scenario. Very often, the right technological environment is what drives eureka-moments and breakthroughs during meetings. Choose your solution wisely – and the sky is the limit.

Want to learn more about the science of organizational meetings? Contact us, we’re here to help.

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