Recently, COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with one another. “Social distancing” rules have forced many to swap face-to-face communication for virtual, and while some believe that eventually this will all end and business will resume as normal, many aren’t so sure.
News of a vaccine is largely positive, but even if researchers are close to developing one, it may not be available to the general public for quite some time. This suggests that unfortunately, whether we like it or not, social distancing is here to stay for the foreseeable - as are virtual communications.
This leaves many businesses wondering: what does this mean for the in-person meeting? Life after COVID-19, or the new “normal” will undoubtedly change the way we interact with our colleagues and clients, but to what extent remains unclear.
We take a look at what COVID-19 means for the in-person business meeting, the possible upsides to a loss of face to face contact, and how you can keep the meetings you do hold running smoothly.
Less in-person meetings: would it be such a bad thing?
The replies to the above question would likely vary significantly depending on who was answering. For example, for old-school salespeople who prefer dealing with their clients in person, the possibility of this being taken away could be a disaster for them, and anyone else who relies on in-person meetings to liaise with clients, and even colleagues.
However, for some, the prospect of less in-person meetings could prompt a sigh of relief, as many of us agree that actually, the average work day currently includes way too many meetings. In fact, studies show that 32% of executives and 21% of employees spend 20 hours or more in meetings each week, and 60% of employees feel that they don’t gain anything from them - begging many of us to ask, would it be so bad if we didn’t have so many meetings?
Yes and no. Undoubtedly, many meetings are, quite frankly, a waste of time. During the COVID-19 lockdown, many employees found that issues that would previously dominate a long meeting, could quite easily be resolved in a simple email, over short video or phone call, or via instant messaging. This realisation is revolutionary, as many businesses are beginning to realise the time and productivity they could save by not holding meetings for every little issue.
Virtual meetings: the “new normal”
Much like in-person meetings, you either love or hate the virtual meeting. However, no matter your opinion, we can no longer deny their effectiveness when faced with issues beyond our control, such as COVID-19. Tools such as Google Hangouts, Zoom and Teams have soared in popularity, and they are extremely handy for both hosting internal discussions and communicating with your clients when you aren’t allowed to be in the same room.
Holding virtual meetings with clients also means you don’t have to spend the extra money on travel, you are able to properly take notes and you can get straight back to work after the meeting has happened. The productivity benefits are huge, and could save business owners a great deal of time and money usually spent on in-person meetings.
While there are obvious negatives to virtual meetings such as signal issues, these aren’t such a huge problem that you should avoid holding them altogether. Virtual meetings are bound to become a key part of the office in the future, so it’s probably time to start getting used to them.
However, not all meetings you do should be done virtually. Not all meetings are pointless, and sometimes the best work you do can come out of a collaborative session with your colleagues. With this in mind, business owners need to focus on how they can make the meetings they do have completely worth it.
Make in-person meetings more efficient
Ultimately, it’s doubtful that face to face business meetings will disappear altogether. Instead, it’s likely many organisations will simply prioritise these necessary, collaborative sessions over non-essential meetings. However, with social distancing measures set to be here for the long run, you’ll need to keep the in-person meetings you do have to a minimum - and they need to be as efficient as possible.
Choose your meetings wisely
As we’ve said before, if you do want to continue holding in-person meetings, be sure that they are absolutely necessary, and be selective about who actually needs to attend them. Many of us will go to meetings for fear of missing out, but this is counterproductive. For both employees and clients, you need to prioritise members who realistically need to be in the meeting, and who can help to reach an agreement or resolution quickly.
Focus on the meeting
This ties in with choosing the right people for the meeting - be sure that those involved can actually focus on the task at hand. Too often, because employees have to attend meetings they aren’t necessarily needed in, they may choose to do other work in the time allotted for the meeting. Again, this isn’t productive. You need to be sure that meetings post COVID-19 are as efficient as possible - so everyone physically in the room, must also be there mentally - that means no looking at your phone sneakily under the desk, we see you.
Create a meeting structure
When social distancing measures become standard across all workplaces, having a meeting structure in place will be vital. This means everything from planning where people are sitting, to forming a meeting agenda, to having a set time to end the meeting. After COVID-19, sitting for hours in a stuffy meeting room is no longer acceptable - so keep meetings on track, well organised and properly planned.
COVID-19 is forcing all of us to re-evaluate the way we currently work, and it isn’t easy. Less in-person meetings is just one example of the many changes we will see in the coming months, but business owners seriously need to consider the amount of time devoted to meetings in their workplaces.
Life after lockdown, or the new “normal” is unlikely to be the end of the in-person meeting - what it could bring an end to, however, is counterproductive meetings that can easily be done through more efficient communication methods. While we don’t know the true impact of less face-to-face meetings in the future, there is every possibility that it could make the workforce as a whole more productive and engaged at work. Will we miss the endless meetings? Who knows.
COVID-19 stories, as well as other industry and tech news will continue to unfold in the coming weeks - keep your eyes peeled for our next blog!
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