The pandemic has meant that it’s often impossible to hold in-person meetings. This is especially true for large groups and teams with members in a different city, state, or country.
To compensate, more companies are turning to virtual meetings. These allow participants to meet in real time, no matter where they are located in the world. Meetings take place through conference calls, video conferences, or webinars.
Virtual Meetings Advantages and Disadvantages
Let’s start looking at virtual meetings pros and cons when compared to face-to-face meetings.
Pros of Virtual Meetings vs Face-to-Face Meetings
Some of the main benefits of virtual meetings are quite obvious, but there are also several other advantages that you may not have considered.
1. Lower Expenses
The most compelling benefit for business owners is that virtual meetings often cost less. There’s no need to pay workers to travel from another location and perhaps incur expenses for accommodation and catering.
2. Everyone Can Be Involved
For a face-to-face meeting, it’s often difficult to pick a time and place that suits everyone. It’s much easier for virtual meetings, as everyone can connect from wherever they are in the world. If some people have limited time, they may still be able to check in for at least a few minutes.
3. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Whether you’re personally committed to reducing your environmental impact or a core value of your company is being green, traveling to fewer meetings will be beneficial.
4. Shorter Sessions
When you meet in person, there’s often the sense that you need to have a long meeting to make it worthwhile, especially if someone has traveled far. With a virtual meeting, it’s reasonable to end the session as soon as you’ve discussed everything. Your team will appreciate that you’re not dragging out the meeting and they can get back to work as soon as possible.
5. More Frequent Meetings
You can also hold meetings more often when they’re virtual. Short check-ins with your team can last just 10 minutes. These are ideal for resolving doubts and making sure everyone is on the same page.
6. The Chance to Record Meetings
Whereas it’s possible to take minutes during a meeting, a recording is much more useful. Employees can quickly find the place in the recording they need. If you had a presentation at the meeting, they can also view the slides. Employees may like to save screenshots of key information to use later. This is helpful for checking details and avoiding mistakes in their work.
7. Minimal Scheduling Needs
With a virtual meeting, the only scheduling you need to do is figuring out the best time for the meeting and choosing what software you’ll use. This is far less complicated than choosing a place, setting up a conference room, and managing travel arrangements.
Plus, even choosing what time to have your meeting is easier. Given advance notice, most of your team will be able to attend — they just need to block out a slot in their schedule. No one needs to worry about going somewhere and there’s no disruption to the flow of the workday.
8. Better for Health
Virtual meetings are better for both your physical and mental health. People who travel for work frequently suffer from stress, poor-quality sleep, and a lack of exercise. They may also be unable to eat a healthy diet. Virtual meetings come with none of these side effects.
9. Collaborate in Real Time
Attendees can work during a virtual meeting. Sharing screens and documents allows you to make changes in the moment. In fact, multiple participants can collaborate on the same project while talking to each other. This means there’s no need to remember information and apply it once the meeting is over, then wait for other people to contribute their part.
Cons of Virtual Meetings vs Face-to-Face Meetings
Unfortunately, there are a number of disadvantages to virtual meetings. It’s for these reasons that companies haven’t adopted the practice on a large scale until now.
1. Interactions Between Participants Are Difficult
It’s more challenging for all attendees to take an active role when the meeting is virtual, particularly when groups are large. In person, it’s possible to talk over each other to some extent, creating a back and forth conversation. In virtual meetings, it’s difficult to hear if more than one person is speaking. This can lead to an artificial feel from interactions.
2. Visual and Audio Only
It’s impossible to fully experience some products by just watching them on a screen. Depending on your industry, it may be beneficial to touch samples or try out a prototype for yourself.
3. Less Dynamic
The need for structure in virtual meetings can dilute the energy. There will always be just on person talking to the entire group and it’s difficult to divide into smaller groups to discuss topics. There’s also less spontaneity, which may mean you miss out on some of the most innovative ideas.
4. Internet Connections Can Fail
To hold a video conference, all team members need a decent internet connection. Poor signal can lead to several things going wrong. For instance, the participant may miss parts of the meeting (from being kicked out by the software or from freezes), the person’s movements may appear jerky to other attendees, or the participant may lose either the video or the sound.
Even worse, the entire conferencing software could fail and no one will be able to attend the meeting. Although this is certainly rare, it has happened in the past.
5. Team Members May Be in Different Time Zones
If your team is spread out across the globe, you may need to hold meetings at what are outside business hours for some people. Having meetings at the same time each week could be an annoyance for these team members. You may need to consider moving the time of the meeting each week to keep things fair for everyone.
6. Participants May Not Know Each Other
When you only ever have virtual meetings, it’s difficult for participants to get to know each other. The pressure is on you to lighten the atmosphere and encourage everyone to interact.
7. Pay for Software
Virtual meetings are not free — they may even end up more expensive than face-to-face meetings, such as if everyone attending would normally work in the same office.
For instance, Zoom is a popular choice for video conferencing and conference calls. It’s free for one-on-one meetings and group meetings with up to 100 people for no more than 40 minutes. However, if you want to host longer group meetings, you’ll need to pay $14.99 a month or $149.90 a year. If you want to host meetings with more than 100 participants, it’s $19.99 a month or $199.90 a year.
For webinars, GoToWebinar is a top choice. This costs $49 per month for up to 100 participants. You’ll need to pay $99 per month if you want up to 250 participants.
How to Improve Virtual Meetings
The good news is you can overcome many of the downsides of virtual meetings. The key is knowing how to make virtual meetings more engaging.
Schedule Only Meetings You Need
Avoid unnecessary back-to-back meetings. Just because it’s easier to schedule multiple meetings throughout the week doesn’t mean you should. Too many meetings is exhausting, a waste of time, and demotivating for everyone involved. Plus, it means a reduction in productivity.
Scheduling just the meetings you need will mean participants are more likely to be enthusiastic about attending. They’ll be more interested in checking in with coworkers, sharing ideas, and talking about their progress.
Avoid All Work and No Play
When everyone is in the same office building, you spend some time socializing. Bring this to your virtual team by holding some meetings that are more casual — for instance, a happy hour for your team to talk about personal things. This is great for creating a sense of belonging.
Teach Your Team to Communicate
You can gain more from your meetings if you teach employees communication skills. The best thing about communication exercises is that they can be fun — which ties into the point above.
Have a Purpose
Instead of holding a meeting just because you always do on Tuesday mornings, think about why you need the meeting. It may be unnecessary to create a detailed agenda, but you should at least have a reason for the meeting. If you’re unable to name a purpose, consider canceling the meeting that week.
For most business needs, the pros of virtual meetings outweigh the cons. Right now, virtual meetings may be a necessity, but the good news is that this gives you the chance to practice improving them and make them more engaging. In fact, it’s possible that many businesses will continue with almost exclusively virtual meetings even when face-to-face meetings become possible again.