Sunday, 15 February 2015

Face-to-face meetings. Still much needed.

'Penguins have a meeting' by
Laura Taylor under a CC license
Businesses and people have grown past the local scale for quite some time now making communication an obvious priority. Despite the increasing number of communication means available, face-to-face meetings still persist. That happens in spite of their higher cost compared to other commonly available alternatives. Why is that? Are they truly irreplaceable?

In all the jobs I had so far, the king of communication means was e-mail. Formal or informal, long or short, pre-run by the management or not. Yes, I have had the experience of the occasional paper-printed letter and, unfortunately, a bit more often, the experience of its distant cousin, the fax message. And then it has been the phone. Plenty of my working hours have been spent there. Every once in while, though, I had to arrange for or participate in face-to-face meetings. So far, that has been with clients or potential clients, project partners, funding bodies, policy makers, working group members, colleagues and peers, top management executives, middle management, trainees, sector stakeholders, ..., you name it...

Have all those face-to-face meetings been worth the time and the cost, especially when international travel was involved? Yes. Even when the hard objectives of the meeting were not met.

You see, when you interact with others in the real word, you exchange much more information than that which words alone convey. This can be via body language, via facial expressions, via interactions with others that may be present but not part of the meeting, via comments that although irrelevant to the topic of the meeting convey information when perceived in context, etc. More importantly, this exchange of information goes both ways. At the end of most of my meetings I had a clear feeling on where things were going and that, in turn, helped me choose my follow-up actions accordingly.

Face-to-face meetings are engaging, too. Agreement (or disagreement) on actions feels firmer. Trust (or distrust) is established more easily and so are other things, such as tolerance, patience and understanding - all necessary from time-to-time in successful, durable collaborations - that we exhibit in our everyday life but are harder to do when using, say, written means of communication.

I admit that I haven't done any hard-fact cost-benefit analysis. But face-to-face meetings still get a lot of praise, having several valid reasons in their support. True, virtual meetings, including video conferences (conference calls never really appealed to me), have a lot of potential but they also come with their own disadvantages, as people in the meeting consultancy side say. Of course, when resources are running thin, one can always try to make the best out of virtual meetings. After all, face-to-face meetings do have their own peculiarities :-)

(as anything that involves people)


(but are still better than conference calls)

No comments: