Why You Should Meet Face To Face Whenever Possible

Credit: Stephen D

Credit: Stephen D

The convenience and efficiency of virtual meetings makes them a tempting option for fledgling entrepreneurs and seasoned business professionals alike. You can save money and time while solving problems without having to leave the comfort of your office. Especially early on in a company’s life, cutting costs is a smart way to get an edge. But in the long run, will virtual meetings really save you the time and money they’re supposed to?

Drew Martin, CEO of MeCam, was having disagreements with his company’s manufacturer in Taiwan. For months they were having trouble ironing out issues of design and cost. Finally they were able to meet face to face in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics show. According to Martin, “What had set us back about three or four months we got done in about four hours.”

What becomes apparent after hearing Martin’s story is that in a situation like this, too much is being asked of a virtual meeting. It’s important to recognize the humanity of the other party when it comes to solving problems. Here are some reasons why meeting face to face won’t be going out of style anytime soon.

Conference Calls

High on the list of meeting offenders is the conference call. The person or persons on the other end of your call could be giving in to a host of different distractions. Here’s a short list of things they could be doing in addition to listening to you:

-Writing sad musings on a pad of paper.

-Watching someone attempt to parallel park for the fourth time on the street outside.

-Pressing the mute button in order to talk to someone else about the podcast “Serial.”

Joking aside, the major consequence of being just a voice on the other end of a line is losing out on all nonverbal communication. Not just hearing but seeing how individuals react to an idea will help you get a clear sense of how that idea really sits with them, literally and figuratively. Are they leaned back in their chair, maybe slouching a little? Then you’re not on the same page. Are they leaning toward you and making great eye contact? Now you’re cooking with gas. It’s in their face and body language that you’ll see what’s what.

Video Chat

Lower down on that list of meeting offenders is video chat. Platforms such as Skype and Google Talk offer a convenient way to meet face-to-face, providing all parties with the benefit of making eye contact, a vital element of non-verbal communication. An ideal amount shows genuine interest, honesty, respect, and integrity. An individual avoiding eye contact is communicating insincerity, apathy, dishonesty, and uneasiness.

Video chat can facilitate the real-time exchange of documents, presentations, graphics, and other forms of media. This allows for a quick dissemination of data and the ability to immediately collaborate on the next best course of action. Additionally, the free price point of many of these platforms is too good to pass up, especially for a fledgling company. The Achilles heel of the video call is the technical difficulty issue. A dropped call, poor connection, or audio and visual that don’t match up can cause frustration and halt momentum.

In a study published by Forbes, 58% of executives surveyed admitted that they “surf the web, check their email, read unrelated materials, and handle other ancillary work during digital meetings.” Even though you might be able to look them in their virtual faces, you still have to compete with their surroundings. These distractions are an unfortunate reality in the realm of virtual meetings.

Why meet in person?

Even with its advantages of convenience, the virtual meeting still pales in comparison to good ol’ fashioned in-person meetings when it comes to developing productive business relationships. It’s the preferred method of meeting for app developers, which bears noting considering you’ll probably be considering an app for your business soon enough.

When companies experience economic hardships, often the travel budget is the first to be gutted. The advantages that come from virtual meetings are tangible ones: They save time, money, and they provide location flexibility. However, when it comes to the human element of business, meetings in person will continue to be the best bet. In the same Forbes study, executives were asked which style of meeting is most conducive to fostering a number of “business actions/attributes/outcomes effectively.” Out of the 15 items, 12 of them showed favorable results for in-person meetings. The only two items that did not give in-person meetings at least a plurality were data presentation and information dissemination. Even then, the numbers were close.

While having eye contact during video chats puts them head and shoulders (heh) above standard phone calls, there are physical aspects to real live meetings that encourage the healthiest of communication. Particularly, the handshake.

The handshake has been a documented staple of human social interaction since medieval times. Knights would shake hands as proof that neither was carrying a weapon, hidden or otherwise. While the purpose of the handshake has become broader since then, it is still a gesture of goodwill and an effective way to establish yourself as a trustworthy associate. There are neurobiological agents at work during a handshake. The neurochemical oxytocin (a.k.a. “the cuddle chemical”), is released during physical contact. It creates a feeling of comfort, mutual respect, and trust between individuals. When meeting with a potential employee, employer, business associate, or new client, these feelings are essential to facilitating a candid conversation. It’s vital to start a business relationship on a trusting foot. Meeting in person will help cultivate this.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the set of skills used to understand and manage emotions effectively. Having strong EI has become a trait valued highly by employers, higher in some cases than IQ. Seeing how well an individual interprets your body language is a good indication of their level of EI. Conversely, you’ll be able to see how well their body language gels with what they are expressing to you. While the concept of Emotional Intelligence is relatively new, two studies published in 1990 popularized the theory, its importance in a workplace environment cannot be understated. One place you should always insist on meeting in person if possible is the hiring process because the best way to judge a candidate’s emotional intelligence is in person. The potential cost of a bad hire outweighs whatever travel cost may accrue from paying to fly a candidate in for an interview.

To expect a company to host all of their meetings in person is irrational. But knowing that virtual meetings are to be used as sparingly as possible will help improve business relationships, morale, and employee satisfaction. As of yet, there is no digital equivalent for the handshake. So get out there, connect with people face to face, and facilitate the mutual exchange of oxytocin.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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