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Business meetings: face-to-face versus digital, where is the real value? 

In a digital world, with so many digital meeting platforms available and with many new digital consumer experiences emerging,  it’s easy to see why this question is so relevant right now. There is arguably no longer a need to meet face-to-face or to be in the same location to facilitate discussion.

However, is there some other level of benefit that face-to-face interaction can provide that digital platforms lack? Perhaps it’s the more personal human interaction and the ability to better build working relationships… or perhaps simply people prefer them as digital meetings can – quite frankly – go wrong. We all know what it’s like when the wifi shuts off unexpectedly.

We asked experts their opinion on where the true value lies.

Lindsay Brown, Vice President, APAC and Japan, LogMeIn

In today’s modern age, where we have more choices in how we interact with each other, the debate of face-to-face versus digital is always an interesting one. I personally see value in both styles as they relate to meetings and collaboration in the workplace.

Firstly, there is one obvious benefit of embracing digital, in that workers no longer need to brave a long commute into an office to do their job and hiring managers no longer need to be restricted to hiring solely on locality.

We conducted research in 2018 that showed more than half of A/NZ workers now have the ability to work remotely. Of those who do, 70% said it gives them more flexibility in their hours, 43% said it was easier to focus or take care of kids or family members (38%). More than a third said they felt more productive when working remotely. Provided you have the right technology and equipment to stay connected to your team when you work away from an office, meetings can actually be far easier in the digital format – particularly if your team is spread across different geographies and time zones.

However, there is also a real genuine value in face-to-face communication. Human interaction is still very important for social cues like body language and tone of voice. Comments can get lost in translation, if not for the way we articulate a point in person.

My belief is that a hybrid of the two works best, and we see this occur in video conferencing tools like GoToMeeting. Human connections are still being made, regardless of whether team members are physically working in the same location or not. However, everyone needs to play ball. If a meeting consists of a mix of in-person and remote attendees, everyone should turn their cameras on and those in the room should make sure to specifically address those who aren’t, so that all participants are equally included and involved.

Enrico Massi, committee member at Sydney Angels

Atlassian built a multi-billion-dollar business based entirely around digital marketing – they didn’t even have a tele-sales force, let alone rely on face-to-face meetings.

However, not all products and sales processes are created equal. Larger enterprise sales often require face-to-face contact. Even for these sales processes, however, there is power and influence in the use of thought leadership and content to build your brand. The best way to do this at scale is with digital marketing. Then those face-to-face meetings will have a higher conversion rate.

Michelle Gallaher, CEO of ShareRoot

The value is in how the discussion develops so it can be translatable and functional online and offline. Whether the meeting starts in a digital place or face-to-face, both are valuable and these days, very necessary formats in building business relationships.

Face to face relationship building is relatively straightforward and enormously valuable in accelerating a business relationship and finding a common understanding around language and shared goals.

Considering cultural, social and technical differences, most of us operate well face-to-face – we’ve had more practice. But it’s really only the past 10-15 years that most of us have been using digital to build business relationships. So in reality, we are still learning the etiquette, language, subtle nuances and appropriate technologies that best suit and translate well to serve an online and offline relationship.

Anthony Sochan, Partner at Think & Grow

We help businesses solve growth challenges by connecting them with great people. As a result, our network resides in every corner of the globe. Digital meetings are amazing at enabling a frictionless way of connecting with that network and whilst the technology has improved, we still find ourselves jumping on planes to meet people face-to-face. It is in these face-to-face meetings that we build our best relationships. In these meetings, we find ourselves slowing down, focusing our attention and enjoying the conversation more.

Shahid Nizami, Managing Director, HubSpot 

Previously, collaboration would take place in boardrooms with eyes fixated on a projector screen. But today, we can edit digital documents in real-time, screens can be shared, and video conferencing sessions set up at the click of a button. The way we live and work has changed, and at HubSpot, we want to give employees the right tools, autonomy, and flexibility to do their best work wherever they’re working from — be that at home, in the office, or anywhere else.

In 2018, HubSpot employees spent 52.1 million minutes on 516,227 video meetings via Zoom — including both internal and external meetings. That said, video can make it a little more challenging to comfortably engage in a meeting. To combat this, over the years our employees have shared their favourite tips and tricks for hosting effective and inclusive video meetings on our internal wiki — small things like agreeing to use Zoom’s ‘raise your hand’ feature to indicate when a participant has something to add to the current speaker’s topic can go a long way to ensuring everyone is heard and feels their opinion is valued.

Ablay Makhmudov, Co-founder and CEO of Ivcbox and alumnus of Startupbootcamp’s Smart Energy program

When most people think of sales, the traditional door-to-door salesman comes to mind. However, in an age of technology, this space has shifted from a completely personal experience to an automated process that happens through the screen of a computer.

While consumers have gained convenience with the ability to shop at all hours of the day and night, human connection has been lost by engaging solely online. In fact, online sales have a conversion rate of approximately 1% whereas face-to-face sales have a conversation rate of closer to 20%.

With my background in sales, I was motivated to bridge this gap by bringing humans back into the buying experience with a live widget. I believe that consumers should be empowered with options, rather than having to choose between a personal sales experience or one that is convenient. The value lies in the combination of these two characteristics and seeing the whole picture, rather than being limited to just digital or face-to-face interactions.

Stephen Barnes, Principal at Byronvale Advisors Pty Ltd, Management Consultants

Both face-to-face meetings and digital meeting have a place.  Digital meetings three main advantages are they are cheaper and less of a time commitment especially versus face-tot-face meeting that involve travel. The third advantage is they can occur anytime, and participants can be anywhere.  However, if all things were equal, most people would prefer face-to-face meetings.  It is easier to build stronger, more meaningful relationships with face-to-face meetings. You also have the ability to ‘read’ another person and execution the art of negotiation that is only present in an in-person meeting.  Also, it if often the conversations outside of the face-to-face meeting where the real gold is, and this doesn’t occur with digital meetings.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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