I’m an Apple geek, I freely admit it. I own everything Apple has ever produced—iPods, iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, iMacs, AppleWatch, Airpods, AppleTV, HomePods. I have most of my retirement savings in Apple stock. I love all things Apple, except for one thing—the Apple FaceTime app. OK, it’s not just FaceTime that I don’t love, it’s all video apps—Teams, Zoom, WebEx, Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, did I miss any?
Truth be told, I don’t hate these apps, I’m just experiencing extreme video conferencing meeting fatigue, otherwise known as EVCMF. For the past 20 months, my work life has been limited to my email inbox and one of the above-mentioned video apps. It has clearly taken its toll on my mental wellbeing.
Two weeks ago, we undertook a new project with a new client. Much to my surprise, the client offered for our team to come to their offices for an in-person meeting to present our statement of qualifications and project approach. Words cannot describe the sheer joy I experienced over the idea of a face-to-face meeting with a client. Words cannot describe the sheer horror I experienced when I discovered that every business suit in my closet somehow shrunk in size (I’m not sure how that happened).
I guess you may have figured out where I’m going with this. As we continue to navigate the currents of this pandemic, the use of digital communication has served an important role in keeping companies, employees, and clients connected and engaged. While opening the doors to company offices has started to happen, working from home, making Zoom calls, and being part of Microsoft Teams is here to stay. Are face-to-face meetings and working at client offices even important any more? My answer to this is an emphatic, YES!
Why am I confident that face-to-face interactions will return? Aside from the fact that they’re already starting to, there are far too many benefits that businesses can’t live without. As I sat in my client meeting two weeks ago, it was obvious from the kickoff that seeing all the stakeholders in person had a professional and personal feel to it—greeting each client representative starting with a handshake and a real-life conversation. There was a direct connection to each person and the body language provided glimpses to their level of interest and direction of the meeting. When you notice the other persons enthusiastic hand gestures, or their physical acknowledgment, you can feel confident knowing that you are doing your job right. Equally, the more confident you appear, the more confident everyone is in the project and the process.
In professional services, one of the most important success factors is the ability to seamlessly integrate into each client’s corporate culture and working environment. This is difficult to do when the only interaction with the client is through a virtual meeting. Meeting face-to-face allows us to communicate goals and objectives easier which enables us to manage project expectations. Meeting face-to-face allows us to be more focused on the task at hand because the tendency to multi-task or be distracted by other “technology” (email, social media, text, etc.) is greatly minimized. Meeting face-to-face is less structured/labored and allows for conversations to go in different directions more naturally which leads to more clarity and better outcomes. Meeting face-to-face allows us to build a baseline level of trust and understanding. Meeting face-to-face allows us to have the hard conversations when projects don’t follow the expected script.
Do I believe that virtual meetings and working remote will fade away? No. I believe that the hybrid model that so many firms are adopting will continue to be utilized but done strategically. Not all interactions need to be in person but understanding when it’s better to meet face-to-face will be a key component of deciding how to approach and deliver on project goals.
“There's a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat.That's crazy.Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”