Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Face to Face or Facebook?

Technology has increasingly been forging a role to make business communications easier.  More and more businesses are using email, video conferencing, live chat and social media networks to communicate and build working relationships, all from the comfort of their own desks and, even, homes.

As liberating as this is, there remains, perhaps more than ever, a need for face-to-face meetings to help cement these virtual links and also to provide something more. 

Mary Beth McEuen, @marybethmcuen vice president and executive director of the Maritz Institute, published as part of recent Cornell University research, her observations on how successful leading companies are choosing to use both virtual meetings and face to face ones (as well as a hybrid of the two) in combination to create effective business outcomes. 

Whilst it must be acknowledged that face-to-face meetings require more financial and time investment (and naturally with that, hold the most expectations), they can work better strategically to achieve three key things:

  1. Capture attention – particularly when a business wants to initiate something new or different.

  1. Inspire a positive climate – helping to catalyse collaboration, innovation and performance

  1. Build human networks and relationships – information can easily be shared virtually, but it is people relationships that are the most valuable

They also offer people the opportunity to share and respond to body language and facial expressions, providing more social interaction and bonding, which virtual channels can only go so far to do.  In my view, it is these social, psychological and emotional benefits to real personal proximity that no amount of remote communication can replace.  A shared meal or drink, walk in the grounds or after dinner, ‘hair down’ discussions add texture and trust to relationships that can really transform a team or working relationship.

Also, in an age when multi-tasking is a common part of all working practice and held in such high regard, face-to-face meetings actually serve to challenge the productivity of doing many things at once.  Face-to-face meetings encourage individuals to down-tools and focus their attention on one task or point.  McEuen argues that real meetings enable people to switch off autopilot and open their minds up to new experiences and situations. This helps generate fresh creativity and blue-sky thinking.

With the benefits of face-to-face meetings clearly outlined, there still remains the difficult question of cost. Face-to-face meetings no doubt cost money to arrange, to travel to and also impact the environment. Furthermore, MPI research predicts that large face-to-face meetings will become more complex in their nature, and involve strategic alliances of organisations or consist of multiple formats happening within one location.  Therefore meeting planners will have a harder task on their hands as they work to achieve return on investment.  A focus on strategy, with clear business outcomes has never been more important to ensure their efficiency and effectiveness.

Organisations often give great weight to venue charges when choosing the location for their meetings, sometimes overlooking the overall benefit.  I have no doubt that the comparatively small premium attached to using the right venue to deliver the more subtle benefits of face-to-face meetings is well worth the investment.

At Sundial SOS, we help meeting planners find the right meeting venues for their business needs and budget. A free service; our venue finding team has first-hand knowledge of hundreds of venues across the UK and can support with any element or level of event management.  For more information and guidance on getting the best out of your face-to-face meetings, please visit:

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