Are Virtual Meetings the Best Choice?

It’s getting hard to remember life before Zoom, Google Meet, or Teams. Since life flipped upside down in 2020 and gave everyone the new option to hold meetings virtually, or to use a hybrid format and include members both in-person and online—organizations have been confronted with an extra decision: What is the best way to meet and accomplish the business we need to get done? Are virtual meetings better? Or worse?

Today’s post provides you with multiple points to consider as you decide whether virtual or hybrid business meeting formats work well for your group going forward.

Consideration 1: Simplicity + Efficiency

Easy-Peasy

If we’re talking about positive points for all-virtual meetings, I totally get the ease of clicking a link to join a meeting—with no travel and no full dress-up. In that respect, I agree that virtual = simplest.

There’s an App for That

Also, we live in a digital age—why not digital meetings? Most of us are very used to downloading apps and using our smart phones for everything. I mean, I definitely still use pen and paper, but I definitely understand the streamlined value present in virtual attendance and even virtual voting. It’s actually getting hard to argue that anything old school is more efficient because in many ways, genuine productivity can be experienced in accomplishing something online.

More or Less

For the bottom-line reader, here’s a definite perk to virtual meetings: Even if you pay for a premium Zoom membership, meeting virtually does save money. No one pays for gas to drive to the office or for flights to the convention center. No one foots the bill for the meals and hotels involved in getting together.

And as far as numbers—most groups experience higher attendance when there’s a virtual option. I’d agree—more people tuning in for the annual meeting is better.

I Can’t Hear You

Here’s the other side of that. First, the complexity of a large board or annual business meeting is far different from a smaller corporate meeting to discuss administrative tasks or strategic goals. Hopping online to brainstorm or catch up is one thing—often very doable in a virtual meeting. But the work of business meetings, and the parliamentary procedure that must be followed, can be extremely complicated. In terms of the heavy lifting that some organizations are doing, virtual meetups are far less ideal.

Also, discussion of weighty or controversial topics in a physical room has a simplicity to it that just cannot happen as well when you have to unmute and re-mute each speaker. In-person conversation has a natural flow to it. Virtual discussion, in contrast, can feel choppy and, therefore, less efficient. 

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

And then there’s time. If time is the most important issue, then you need to scrap the virtual option entirely. Again, I’m talking about business meetings here, where compliance with meeting rules is necessary. Transacting business in virtual and hybrid meetings takes longer—period. Buzzing in to say something during debate takes more time because an extra layer of staff is needed to watch screens, recognize speakers, and monitor virtual participation.

Check Yes or No

Some software can tabulate votes automatically—yay for saving a few minutes! But voting can also take more time online if how-to-vote details have to be explained, or if voting secrecy is difficult, or if digital voting has to be doublechecked.

Two Times the Work

And regarding the issue of efficiency, meetings become even crazier if you go hybrid. First, you have to figure out whether between the two formats you have a quorum and also how to give equal opportunity for participation between those present in the room and those present virtually. Then, if virtual votes have to be combined with in-person votes, you may be doubling the work. So, there’s just a simplicity when everyone is in one place (either online or in-person).

Consideration 2: Collegiality

Let’s Get Together

Now for the less apparent (and maybe less popular) idea: There’s something intangible—and less visible—that is lost by meeting virtually. Though the same decisions can be made, collaboration is minimized. And while some of you introverts are thinking, Yeah, and that’s what I love about Zoom meetings—no chit-chat—there’s some cultural value lost when informal conversations in the hallways disappear. The “feel” of the group is different when some or all of the participants are not in one physical space together.

Bottom Line

I recognize that most of us have now become very comfortable operating in the virtual space. But if, after reading this, you’re thinking—Should we hold in-person board meetings or virtual?—I would first applaud your openness in asking that question. And as you head into another calendar year of meetings, I’d encourage you to discuss this. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking too simplistically that the advantages of virtual or hybrid meetings outweigh the disadvantages. Take time to review your practice in this area and consider all the above factors. It is okay to shift back to in-person only, to continue a hybrid format if you can handle the challenges, or to utilize virtual meetings when that is clearly beneficial. As always, focus on practices that will further your mission and strategic objectives in ways that are efficient and respectful of the individuals involved.

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