Before 2020, businesses had a lot more choice in the ways in which they delivered meetings, workshops, and other events.
For some, like ourselves, virtual meetings were already the norm. After all, why travel an hour for a thirty-minute meeting when you could be more efficient with your time?
But what about other business activities such as facilitated workshops or events? At align.me, we have always happily relocated to wherever needed to undertake these activities. But 2020 threw a spanner in the works and demanded everyone shift to virtual formats.
As we’re seeing things return to “business as usual”, we all have a lot more choice in how we meet, gather and present. So, is one option better than another? And how do we choose what is the most appropriate format for our business?
The problem with deciding what works for you
Like many businesses, the pandemic forced us to take aspects of our business into a virtual space – an adjustment that, while a bit hard to get used to, would likely have been more challenging for some than for us.
Now that we are seeing a return to the office, businesses are once again given the choice of when and how to incorporate virtual vs. non-virtual delivery methods throughout their daily operations. It might seem trivial, but choose the wrong option and you may lose value-adding opportunities by not going all-in on the areas that are most beneficial to their operations.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, businesses should look to identify best practice by viewing the questions from two angles:
- What do we want?
- What do our clients want?
There will be some instances where virtual works and some where it’s just not a viable option. The question is, what works best for specific circumstances?
Finding value in virtual/non-virtual meetings
The value gained from going one way or the other (or a combination of both) when talking about the virtual vs. non-virtual debate is a bit of a pendulum swing. Many businesses are still adjusting to the “new normal” of operations, discovering the pros and cons at both ends of the swing based on personal preferences. Here is our list of what to consider when deciding which format to use:
1. Is the meeting/event necessary to travel for?
When deciding on which direction to take, it can be helpful to consider the location of your staff and clients in your discussions. A distributed team is clearly going to be better suited to virtual formats as it would be a logistical nightmare to get people in a room together.
In general, virtual meeting formats significantly reduce time and money spent on travel, allowing participants to maximise productivity whilst still engaging in the meeting.
The critical thing to note here is what will be more efficient for the process you’re trying to perform. Sure, general client meetings can probably go without the need for in-person participation. But for other events or workshops, you may miss out on delivering value to all parties.
2. Are your events lacking full collaboration?
There’s no arguing that there’s something special about a group of people working together to achieve a strong business outcome. For us, we love the “in the trenches” feeling you get from spending a stretch of time planning something out with a client in person.
The danger with business events or workshops like these is that the loudest voices tend to be heard over everyone else. For business events that require a collaborative approach, sometimes going virtual can be a great way to engage the quiet participant and include all parties on the call.
Another option for these types of events is a hybrid format where some people are in person, and some call in. This is another excellent method for distributed workforces or clients in another geographic region. Still, it can work against you if you’re not entirely bought into the technology that facilitates this. Speaking of technology…
3. Do you have the right technologies to pull value from virtual meetings?
There is a strong chance that you’ve encountered this problem before – you’re working from home, and you call into a meeting where all other participants are in person. The reality is that you may end up missing a lot of meaningful opportunities for interaction and inclusion. The people in the room end up getting more value out of the meeting through small side banter and opportunities for quick side chats that external participants don’t get.
Thankfully, there are technologies available to promote a greater level of inclusion in hybrid meeting/event formats. Tools such as Zoom rooms provide immersion by fostering interaction with a digital experience instead of a meeting. Rather than talking amongst each other in a room and running the risk of excluding someone who has called in from a different location, these meeting technologies direct attention solely to a screen and encourage an even playing field of participation.
The small print? You have to be all-in for these methods to show results.
4. Is there a clear path that works best for you? (aka the Trello effect)
In 2017, Trello was acquired by Atlassian. The list-making application cleverly makes use of a remote-first approach to business where all meetings are conducted virtually, regardless of whether people are in the same room or not.
By setting a firm mandate on this practice, Trello created a working environment that provided equal inclusion to all employees and clients. In fact, this method was so popular that when Atlassian acquired them, they adapted to Trello’s remote-first format!
While this won’t be effective for all businesses, it’s an important lesson in how choosing a path that works for you early can set you up for success and maximise the value gained by your colleagues and clients from meetings and events.
Finding value from planned approaches to meeting delivery
By determining the route you want to take in the virtual vs. non-virtual debate, you will find that operations-wide productivity increases as a result. Colleagues and clients want to engage in delivery methods that will bring them the most value, and that’s the most important thing at the end of the day.
Is saving time the most important thing for you? It might be. But in some cases, making the trip might be worth it for a more engaged audience and valuable event.
Deciding what works and what doesn’t work for you early is vital in leveraging value gained from going virtual, non-virtual, or a combination of the two.
It’s safe to say that many businesses will continue with virtual events and meetings in some circumstance – some much more often than pre-pandemic. Which is great news. But even with 12 months of practice, not everyone has the skills or tech to hold really valuable virtual experiences.
If you’re keen to keep your virtual options open, take a look at the lessons we learnt from delivering workshops remotely.