As the technology and business landscapes continue to evolve, I find myself often faced with a new personal dilemma: when and which meetings should I take in person and which should be done online? Here are the questions I usually ask myself and the factors that I consider:
Is it a first time meeting?
When possible, meetings (especially first time meetings) should be done in person. It’s easier to have casual conversations, read body language, and get to know someone that way. I feel that after an initial in-person meeting, most people are more comfortable doing follow-up meetings online.
How heated/emotional will the meeting be?
If you anticipate your meeting involving a lot of emotions and personal topics, it should be conducted in person if possible so that you can properly read people. Sometimes body language can be missed in an online meeting which can cause miscommunication.
Do you have an efficient online meeting solution?
You must make sure you are using a web conferencing or online meeting platform that is efficient and that works well for you and for your attendees. It must be robust, reliable and secure. You want your participants to be able to join the online meeting easily and be able to see and hear clearly.
How far is the meeting?
If it’s close (within walking distance or just a cab ride away) then I’d recommend having an in-person meeting. However if it’s in another city, state or country, it may be more productive and less expensive to host a virtual meeting online.
How many people are attending the meeting and how long will it last?
Three people travelling 20 minutes to a meeting that is only one hour long may translate into one hour of lost productivity. It may make more sense to meet online if there are many people travelling together. Unless of course it’s a crucial first time meeting or an emotionally heated one.
Where will the physical meeting be held?
I often find that more gets accomplished when everyone is looking at the same content from their own computer screens compared to everyone squinting at a small boardroom monitor or projector in an uncomfortable conference room. Do you have a location that makes it easy to collaborate in person or would an online meeting be more effective?
Who is in your audience?
You need to make a decision about whether or not to host an online meeting based on the personal preferences and comfort levels of your participants. People have different comfort levels with technology, especially sitting behind a computer screen during a presentation or having a webcam focused on them during a video conference. Still, others would actually be more comfortable behind a computer screen so it’s up to you to consider who your audience is and what they would prefer.
How will your guests take it?
If you don’t meet with your audience in person, will they take it personally that you’re not travelling to see them or would they respect that you’re trying to use their time efficiently? Take into consideration the perspectives and needs of the people you are meeting with and always remember that they are your guests whether you meet them online or in person.
When was the last time that you’ve seen the people you’re meeting with?
If you just recently had an in-person meeting with your audience, you may want to hold the next meetings virtually. You could, for instance, alternate quarterly meetings between in-person and online.
At the end of the day, this will be a personal decision and one that you make on a case-by-case basis. I personally still like to meet people in person as much as possible. However, with increasing travel congestion, better video capabilities in web conference platforms and improvements to video conferencing, the argument against meeting online is becoming weaker and weaker. The biggest change – from my perspective – is that meeting online has become significantly more culturally accepted and even expected. To meet or not to meet online is still the question; however, meeting in person is no longer always the answer.