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Only high-engagement meetings need face-to-face

16th Nov 2022
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Virtual meeting technology can be effectively used for many meeting objectives, according to a new framework published in Business Horizons, and face-to-face meetings are only needed for meetings that need a high level of engagement from participants, or meetings that are being used to build trust and a relationship between the parties involved.

The team of business school researchers also suggests that if a meeting has a large number of participants or is scheduled to be longer than one hour, visual capabilities become more important, which is why video-conferencing or face-to-face are required.  If a meeting is smaller – around 5 or less people – and is scheduled to be shorter than an hour, then even audio-only meetings could be sufficient.

This framework was developed by Steve Muylle, Professor of Digital Strategy and Business Marketing at Vlerick Business School, alongside his colleagues - Willem Standaert, Associate Professor at HEC Liège, Belgium, and Amit Basu, Professor at Cox School of Business, USA.

Keen to develop a framework to help organisations decide the best possible modality for meetings in a post-pandemic world, they considered four key modalities of conducting a meeting: audio-conferencing, video-conferencing, telepresence and face-to-face.

In order to decide how to meet the professors suggest there are two important questions that need answering first. These are; why the meeting is occurring in the first place, and the main capabilities of the modality used.

The researchers considered reasons for the meeting occurring such as, a simple exchange of information, the making of important decisions, communicating specific sentiments and the building of relationships. The capabilities considered were the ability to hear the attendee’s voices, the use of shared computer screens, seeing attendee’s body language and their facial expressions, experiencing co-location and observing what attendees are looking at.

Results concluded that in order to achieve all four possible objectives of a meeting, either a telepresence method or a face-to-face is needed. Whilst in order for there to be high-engagement and the possibility to build further trust and a relationship, a face-to-face is likely to work well – but costs need to be considered.

Professor Muylle says,

“After the covid pandemic drastically accelerated the use of digital technologies for meetings, we are now seeing travel and face-to-face return, but there is a change in the number of meetings we now conduct online compared to pre-pandemic.

Gartner expects by 2024 that 75% of meetings will be online, and organisations need to be cautious about not only the cost of face-to-face meetings, but also the environmental effects that they can have, as well as the need to make effective business decisions. Organisations need to better understand the impact of each modality, and balance both the costs and benefits of each method.”

The researchers also suggest that when a hybrid meeting is occurring, the bigger the difference in modalities of participating, the less effective the meeting will be. For example, if someone is conducting the meeting face-to-face, and someone is only joining through the audio-conferencing method, it is likely to be an unproductive meeting.

Using this framework, the researchers hope that organisations can assess their investments in virtual meeting technologies, and also help meeting organizers select an effective business meeting mode which works for all of those concerned with the meeting.

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