The fourth in a four-part series on online meetings – the tech, the etiquette, the challenges
Other articles in this series have concentrated on some of the meeting solutions that are available and on the best way to run online meetings. This article will consider the differences between in-person and online meetings.
For most of our existence mankind has traditionally held only face-to-face meetings (yes, even cavemen had committee meetings and water cooler conversations). Of course, online meetings have been around for a while now but they became ‘big’ earlier this year. Since the pandemic started and lockdown was thrust upon us, online meetings have become commonplace. At first, these were new to many people or at the very least it was a very new experience to attend such meetings from home.
A very few people continued to work from their office location and of course more people are now starting to return to the office. This means some staff will be working in the office and some at home and some people will be doing a bit of both during their typical working week. This mixed or ‘hybrid’ work environment is likely to continue for some time. So, what does this mean when it comes to meetings?
The Pros and Cons of In-Person Meetings
|It is easier to pick-up on subtleties such as body language, thereby limiting the risk of misunderstandings||People have to be in the same place at the same time|
|You can see who is focused and involved and who isn’t, and involve those who aren’t||Greater investment of time and cost|
|The ‘in-person’ environment is probably viewed as more formal and professional, although this may change over time||Short-notice meetings are less likely, unless everyone is already close at hand (Although this is also a positive at times)|
|Organisers may be more likely to plan and to produce proper agendas, knowing that people have made the effort to get there||In this current situation, some people are reluctant to attend in-person meetings due to concerns around social distancing|
Pre and post conversations are often as valuable as the meeting itself
The “socialisation” that face-to-face meetings provide can be invaluable in colleagues getting to know each other, identify and address concerns and how to motivate
The Pros and Cons of Online Meetings
|Participants can be located virtually anywhere||
Participants can be looking at email or other distractions on their computer while ‘attending’ the meeting
There may be resistance to demands for a “camera on” / “Email” off policy
|No need to travel, saving both time and travel costs||It can be more difficult to pick up on body language to spot people who are disengaged|
|Meetings can be organised at short notice, sometimes within minutes!||
Meetings can quickly be scheduled to run back-to-back leaving no time for preparation or note writing afterwards
There becomes an assumption that attending meetings means you are busy
During lock-down the number of meetings increased, often to the detriment of productivity.
The culture of ‘back to backing’ video calls all day is not healthy or productive
|Technology allows many features not commonly available to in-person meetings such as recording, which helps when writing-up the minutes||Distractions are more common, especially for home-based participants. These can include anything from children and barking dogs to the arrival of home deliveries|
You can’t be hospitable by sharing your biscuits, at least not without a lot of planning!
|Technology can disrupt meetings! Unreliable Wi-Fi connections and patchy sound can cause disruption and annoyance|
In the new ‘hybrid’ world we are also seeing hybrid meetings – with those in the office joining from meeting rooms and remote workers from their home office.
This brings in a different dimension with those in the office getting the benefits of the ‘socialisation’ element. There have been reports of those joining remotely feeling alienated as they assume those in the office have made decisions ‘off camera’.
My list may not be complete and the sheer number of pros and cons is not necessarily an indication of their importance, but it is interesting to note that I have listed more pros for in-person meetings and more cons for online meetings. But there are things that work for both types of meetings and actions we can take to redress the balance, as listed below.
- Plan your meetings carefully, whether in-person or online, by considering your objectives, selecting your attendee list and preparing (and circulating in advance) a proper agenda.
- Keep an eye on your participants and look for emotions such as annoyance, boredom or distraction. Good meeting software will let you see all of the participants unless your meeting is very large.
- Introduce meeting etiquette – just as you would insist on ‘mobiles off’ (and off the table) during board meetings you should encourage camera on and fingers off the keyboard.
- Know your audience and be aware of those who may be ‘backward in coming forward’. Ask for their views and ensure they are included.
- Maintain a level of professionalism but have fun too where appropriate.
- Manage your diary so that you have time both to prepare for meetings and to have time for contemplation and note taking afterwards.
- If attending from home, try to manage your household as much as possible to limit distractions.
- Implement equipment that makes it easy for people in one room to be seen by those connecting remotely.
- Avoid allowing meetings to take over your entire day just because they are easy to schedule.
- Keep strong, vocal and opinionated individuals from taking over the meeting.
- Don’t invite more people than are needed.
- Don’t let participants be distracted by mobile phones or other activities.
- Avoid rebuking staff or being overly negative in front of others.
- If at all possible, use in-person meetings instead of online meetings to deal with sensitive staff issues such as appraisals and disciplinary meetings.
In summary, apart from managing the technology, the rules of successful meetings are quite similar regardless of how they are held.
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