Virtual and hybrid meetings may have been the biggest meeting trends during this “great recession,” but their ubiquity has only reinforced the fact that some business objectives are best achieved face-to-face.
The 2009 Oxford Economics Study found that for every $1 a company invests in business travel, an average of $12.50 in increased revenue and $3.80 in new profits is generated, an ROI unequaled by virtual events. The 2009 Forbes Insight survey found that 80 percent of business executives prefer face-to-face contact to virtual interactions.
But in what cases should a meeting planner insist that a meeting be physical rather than virtual? A new white paper published by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research takes a scientific approach to defining when a physical meeting is required to achieve organizational objectives.
In “The Future of Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face,” authors Christine Duffy and Mary Beth McEuen of Maritz say that there are three business needs best served by meeting face-to-face. They are when a company wants:
- To capture attention. People’s full attention is needed when you want to initiate something new or different. When you want to initiate a new or different relationship, culture, strategy, or product, face-to-face is best.
- To inspire a positive emotional climate. Do not underestimate the power of inspiration and [a] positive emotional climate as a real currency of business. When you want to energize and inspire, face-to-face is best.
- To build human networks and relationships. Information and resources are not the only things needed for work to get done effectively. Increasingly, information is being commoditized, while there is much greater value in “people networks and relationships.” To power up human networks and relationships, face-to-face is best.
Attention during virtual events tends to be sporadic as people tend to multitask during them, something the authors say “is a real problem when the goal is to initiate something new, whether that is new learning or a new set of priorities that requires a shift in attitude and action.” Their research found that when a person’s brain toggles between activities, what is learned during that time is not retained; what they learn while multitasking “cannot be extrapolated and applied back at the job.” They also found that because the brain tends to rely heavily on “archived” information and patterns to sort through new information, when people are distracted, they “move through [their] routines without actually engaging with what is happening in the moment,” filtering out any information that doesn’t fit established patterns. That’s bad news if a company or organization is trying to change patterns of behavior or attitudes. In contrast, Duffy and McEuen say, the multi-sensory environment of a face-to-face meeting enhances long-term learning and focus.
Personal meetings also engage the emotions and can create a positive emotional climate, something businesses need to do if they want to inspire and motivate people, Duffy and McEuen say. “This positive emotional climate enhances everything, including collaboration, relationship-building, creativity and performance.” And positivity is contagious, they assert. “Research has confirmed that emotions, attitudes and moods do, in fact, ripple out from individuals and, in the process, influence not only other individuals’ emotions, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors, but also the dynamics of the entire group.”
Perhaps one of the drawbacks of meeting virtually is that attendees don’t have the same spontaneous encounters as real-time attendees. “Face-to-face meetings provide the best environment for the chaotic process of networking, reconnecting, storytelling and relationship-building to occur,” Duffy and McEuen say. “As relationships and networks are strengthened, the company has a chance to move forward in pursuing its shared goals, because while people in strained or non-existent relationships are more likely to see [the] ways they differ, people in great relationships are more likely to see and share what they have in common.” The value and quality of the relationships formed at physical events helps create a working community that “provides the collective resilience, agility and will to succeed that is necessary for business success.”
Examples of the types of gatherings Duffy and McEuen say require meeting face-to-face include:
- Meetings to initiate a new strategic direction for the organization
- Product launches
- Meetings to merge two cultures into a new culture
- Meetings to renew the focus and attention on an existing strategy
- Annual or semi-annual meetings to energize people around company goals, values and priorities
- Inspirational events to build community and cohesion towards a shared interest or goal
- Recognition events to celebrate top-performing individuals and teams
- Celebration events that mark important milestones
- Annual or semi-annual meetings to enable cultural cohesion and relationship-building
- For dispersed workforces, a regular rhythm of face-to-face meetings to build trust and effective working relationships
- Dynamic knowledge-sharing and innovation summits
To download the full report, click here. (Registration is free.)