Recently, businesses have been facing two evils: remote work for which they were not ready and meetings that they never knew how to organize.
So when remote meetings started to become widespread, it was a sure bet that we were heading for disaster, by marrying two plagues.
I admit that I work in an organization for which the notions of remote work and multi-site teams have always been a reality, so I was in a very favorable context to deal with this, but it seems to me that in the end the picture is not so negative.
The limits of remote meetings compared to face-to-face meetings
Of course everything is not perfect and remote meetings have major drawbacks.
- Some of the non-verbal information is lost, and therefore some of the message. However, it is not as bad as in the past when we had the sound without the image.
- They are not very well adapted to certain activities, notably creativity. More and more tools are making it easier than in the past, but it is still not ideal.
- They are exhausting in terms of concentration, especially when the number of participants is high. But there is a problem of governance: I see meetings with 10, 15, 20 or 40 people that would never have been organized in person because of the lack of large enough rooms and because the people are not all on the same site. But in virtual meetings, we think we can do anything, even the most unproductive things.
- They are not always of good quality. Depending on the videoconferencing tools used, the quality of the network, and even the quality of the home network for those who are at a distance…it can be complicated.
- They are very “technical” and formal, and do not allow for as much bonding as traditional meetings.
- There is no “off“, the informal debriefing that is so useful in the corridor at the end of the meeting. Of course, there is the chat, but it’s not the same.
But it’s not all bad.
The benefits of remote meetings
I also noticed some positive points in remote meetings.
- They usually start on time and end more often on time. Because you don’t have to run in the corridors between two meetings, because between two rooms there is a click and not 20 meters and 3 floors.
- They are shorter.
- They are more structured.
- People are more polite. You let other people speak, you raise your hand to speak.
- You hear new voices, they are less “discriminating”, you listen to others more. Many people, for reasons of personality or shyness, had difficulty existing in a meeting room and imposing themselves. Now they raise their hands and are allowed to speak. One person also pointed out to me that “in a room I am small, frail and I find it hard to exist, in video I exist like people who are 1m90 tall…”. I am convinced that remote work has dealt a blow to the domination of the “big mouths” in the business because others have more channels to exist in a way that makes them more valuable.
- They can be recorded. This is an essential advantage when not everyone can participate or to go over the details of a specific topic.
Remote meetings are not necessarily worse than office meetings, they are sometimes even better.
Neither should we accuse them of problems that already existed before: the lack of governance, of structure, of rules is not new. Face-to-face was inefficient, remote is just worse. But it’s not a problem of distance.