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The Battle of the Meetings: Virtual vs. In-Person – Which is Better?

The short answer? Both!

After two-plus years of being limited to almost entirely virtual meetings, we’ve learned that there are huge benefits to doing things online. But many people were also chomping at the bit to get back to seeing each other in the flesh. So that begs the question – which is better? It turns out that we need both and for different reasons. So while you may be tempted to toss your ring light forever in favor of jumping back onto planes…not so fast. Let’s look at the pros of both types of meetings and see why you need to keep them all in your diary.

Virtual

Sigh, I know, many of you were hoping to get rid of these with all of that zoom fatigue creeping in. But now that you’ll be mixing in more in-person events, there will be a better balance and you should be feeling less worn out by your screen time. Why do you need to keep them at all? Well…

  • Time: They’re far more efficient. Particularly for lawyers who hold on to the billable hour like a life vest, time is money. Virtual meetings cut down on travel, time out of the office, and the meetings themselves tend to be far more efficient. For a conference, it may not be practical for you to be out of the office for the conference as well as the travel time, but to hop on your computer for a few virtual sessions? Why not!
  • Distance: Depending on the client, it can take a great deal of time and effort to arrive at a meeting, which may only last for an hour before you are back on the road again. While that face time can be necessary (more on that in a moment), sometimes distance makes it more efficient to hop on a virtual meeting rather than several flights with layovers. This holds true for conferences too – you can get the benefits of virtual networking and learning without leaving your desk.
  • Inclusivity: This falls on many levels. Remote work is more inclusive generally, as recent studies have shown, so it makes sense that this would extend to virtual meetings as well. Not only does this apply to employees of color, but it also applies to women in the workforce, carers who need more flexibility, and those with disabilities or compromised immune systems. This is a HUGE benefit for meetings and will be why we’ll see both business meetings and conferences continue to have a virtual component even in their in-person events.
  • Cost: Of course, cost is always a factor – not just the actual spend, but the time out of the office. Whenever you are making the decision to attend a meeting or a conference, you factor in the travel (fuel, especially these days, is significant), the time away from the office and your family, the hotel expense, and weigh that against the benefit of the face time with your client or networking opportunities. Sometimes the benefits are worth it, but other times, you can save that cost with a virtual session.
  • Pandemic: And finally, we are still in a pandemic, with many jurisdictions facing periodic lockdowns, others facing waves of new strains of the virus. Some people are cautious while others are literally not allowed out of their homes and still others are too immune-compromised to safely travel. The virtual option, as mentioned for inclusivity, is a great way to ensure that you can still participate.

In-Person

Following all of those virtual pros, does that mean we should all stay home and be glued to our screens after all? NO! We recently held our first in-person conference after two and half years, and I can tell you that the hugs have never been tighter. But apart from great hugs (and 70 people who managed to avoid getting COVID), what are the benefits of in-person meetings?

  •  Body language & social cues: Although we have the benefit of video with virtual meetings we are still missing out on each other’s body language and social cues that we have when we meet in person. This may not seem that important, but most experts agree that 70-93% of communication is nonverbal. So imagine that you’re having a conversation with a client who has had to turn their camera off for one reason or another during a virtual meeting and you’re now missing out on 70-93% of your communication. Sometimes, you’re going to need to be meeting face-to-face to make sure that things are really okay and the connection is strong. The same is true for conferences where networking is a large component – how will you know whether you’ve made a valuable networking connection unless you’ve looked the person in the eye?
  • Pay more attention: I think we can all agree with this one – we simply pay more attention when we’re physically present somewhere. Although virtual meetings can be incredibly efficient, unless they’re short and we’re the ones leading them, there can be the tendency to get distracted. If you have your camera on, then you are likely to be focused. But if not, my guess is that you may be using the time to check your email or your phone and to multitask, unless you’re needed at that moment. Even worse if you’re at a virtual conference. It’s just human nature. In person, at least you have others around you to shoot you a dirty look!
  • Gain more trust: For some reason, we trust people more when we’ve met them in person – at least this is what a study done by researchers at the University of Chicago says, indicating that negotiators who shook hands were more open and honest. I’ve met some of my best friends online and have yet to meet some of them in person, so I’m mixed on this one!
  • The special sauce: That’s where the magic happens! We say this at the ILN – we don’t know what it is, but something special happens when we all get together. Yes, we are warm and engaging when we’re in a virtual meeting, but there is just something that happens when we see each other in person that is really special. It makes the long flights and layovers and train rides and even pandemic delays all worth it. And that’s why, for us at least, we will continue doing in-person conferences (as well as virtual events!) as long as we can!

We’ve learned that there’s no substitute for being together, but there are great benefits to be had for being virtual (and hybrid!). So keep all kinds of meetings and events on your calendars as we go forward!