Virtual meetings - Good or bad?

1 June 2021

Lois Normington

Lois Normington Visit website

The change to hosting and attending virtual meetings during the last 14 months has significantly increased. With office closures and more staff working from home, we’ve seen a necessity to interact online more, quite literally overnight.

But, on the flipside, there’s a happy balance between the positive and negative impact on meetings.

This includes meetings still being able to go ahead despite a lack of office attendance and the ease of being able to ‘click and join’. Yes, it’s a different approach to the traditional face-to-face, but the alternative has proved to work very well…and it’s reduced the cost and time associated with travel. In fact, some businesses have been doing it for years!

What has appeared welcome is dodging the need to book a meeting in the office and facing disappointment when there’s no space to host it!


Some of the biggest positive factors I’ve found include:

Pros:

  • The quality and choice of virtual meeting rooms has improved with continuing IT advances. There used to be only a few options, but over the last year, the market’s opened up, offering a plethora of alternatives.
  • Costs – Reduction in travel expenses and potential time on the road significantly lessen your carbon footprint. It also saves on costs of room and equipment hire and food supply.
  • More control – you can specify meeting times and breaks within the session which are more likely to be adhered to.
  • You have the opportunity to record the meeting for distribution to non-attendees at a later date.
  • Everyone can still be involved, there’s no maximum attendance (dependent on your software). 
  • There’s minimal scheduling requirements.

From an Innovation Team perspective, we’d usually organise a face-to-face meeting with clients to visit the development work which has been happening within the business and be able to see, touch and watch the production in action. It also gives us the opportunity to meet the wider team involved in the creation of the product for example.

We’ve saved an enormous amount of time and expenses by not travelling to client premises, which has meant we’ve been able to host more client meetings than normal. However, this hasn’t replaced the desire for in-person contact. The challenge for us during the past 14 months has resulted in not being able to see our client IT systems/ app developments/exhibitions/factory productions or even the end products themselves. The hands-on experience this brings the team to understand the technical aspects surrounding projects is invaluable and priceless.

Although we’ve cut down on our travel time dramatically – and have continued to deliver a great service virtually – we’re desperate to get back out on the road and visit both new and existing clients in the flesh to improve upon client experience, relationship building and to see just how industries are advancing and adapting since the pandemic hit.

Within our own team especially, we’ve developed a best practice to get together each day to go through top priorities and any problems or obstacles which may be arising. This would prove difficult on a normal working day due to us being based in different locations. but this has resulted in a more in-depth knowledge of our client portfolio, areas of expertise and an improved service to the wider Fortus network.

We have, however, also had to endure some interesting challenges within the virtual meeting room! There’s always that one colleague or client you can’t hear (#youreonmute), has a pixelated face, is regularly (accidentally) talked over or whose speakers echo, inevitably bringing frustration and impacting on that precious time you’ve put aside to discuss an important topic. And, although this has proved largely successful with most of our client network, we’ve learnt some clients prefer in-person meetings. We’ve also found that some businesses don’t have the systems/subscriptions in place or even the desire to use the technology available for virtual services. In these instances, we’ve relied upon phone calls and emails as a temporary measure to keep momentum going on our planning sessions and claim submissions.

We feel as a whole that our clients are missing out on that all important customer experience which we pride ourselves on as a business, and is what helps us to remain competitive in the market.

However, with the positives, there also comes the negatives;

Cons:

  • If you have a bad/no wi-fi connection, you’re likely to encounter problems joining a meeting. There’s always problems with audio or video, no matter what platform you’re using!
  • We like to meet new clients to understand their business by seeing the development work in action – this isn’t always possible to do so online.
  • It’s difficult to answer questions in a big or company-wide group session.
  • Virtual meeting spaces are visual and audio only. It’s much less dynamic, and can sometimes be a little awkward.

Working from home, in many cases however, has resulted in being able to work more flexibly. It means we’re able to meet clients early in the morning or later on in the evening, when usually this would be commuting time for most.

From my personal experience during this time, I’ve gained a wider range of IT knowledge with regard to meetings and events software and will use this to improve efficiencies across the team’s diaries I coordinate on a daily basis.

Virtual meetings are certainly convenient for the current times and will continue to be a popular method. However, as we open ourselves up again to more social interaction and office attendance, we’ll likely revert back to filling our diaries with face-to-face meetings. Hopefully the last 14 months is proof that face to face isn’t always the answer, and they’re not always the most productive means. But, if we can take anything away from this experience, it would be to find a balance between the meetings we need and use a range of online and offline resources to manage our relationships with others and learning practices. Thus, becoming more sustainable and strengthening our client interaction.

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