This week saw the long awaited “Freedom Day” become a reality in the UK. With all legal restrictions now removed, including the directive to work from home, people are now free to return to the office. However, the reality is somewhat mixed. Some businesses have stated that employees can continue to work from home, while some insist they return to the office and some blend working at home and office. Given this inconsistent approach to working, how are meetings likely to be conducted in the future? Will the virtual meetings we’ve all become used to still dominate after lockdown, or will we return to the face to face, in person meetings of the past? The answer to that, I believe, will be a “horses for courses” approach driven by human behaviour. What do I mean by that?
Humans are essentially social animals; we crave social interaction, and we are all finely tuned to interpret those interactions, but are we able to do that virtually? Human communication has been shown to be 55% body language, so are we able to perceive that virtually, especially when you can only see the head and shoulders of the other people? I believe this comes down to one thing: trust. If you know and trust the person you are meeting, then virtual is much less of a problem. For example, how many times have you been in a situation of emailing someone you haven’t met? Often the exchanges are quite cold. Contrast that then with emails exchanged after you have met, they are totally different. Having met the person, you have sized them up, you have decided whether you can trust them or not. You have a relationship.
Horses for courses
This is what I mean by “horses for courses”. If you know and trust the people you are meeting with, then virtual is a great option. In particularly project review meetings where teams are geographical dispersed are much more likely to be virtual. However, if you’ve never met or meet very infrequently then meetings are much more likely to be face to face, at least in the beginning. That’s why we bring teams together for kick-off meetings, so everyone can get to know each other. They build trust and establish relationships. That’s a challenge to do virtually because there’s no social element.
The other area where face to face is important is for brainstorming, conceptualising and innovation. It’s very difficult to do that virtually, you need to be in the same room with people so you can interact. That’s why, surprisingly to some, that the big tech companies are insisting people coming back to the office. These companies thrive on the innovation sparked by direct human interaction.
My personal believe is that much like blended working we will also move to blended meetings. More routine, progress type meetings, especially where it’s difficult to get everyone in the same place will continue to be virtual. However, meetings where attendees don’t know each other, or where human interaction is needed will revert back to face to face. I write as someone who thrives on that human interaction so I may be biased, and you may disagree, but I hope not. Relationships define us.