By Andy Jonak
After two months of lockdown, I still attend meetings with my colleagues, vendors, distributors, customers, and other people that we need to meet with to conduct business. It's all remote meetings. Lots of remote meetings. That is probably not much different then what the rest of us are doing. We have to keep business going in whatever industry we are part of, and that requires meetings. But now, all of those meetings have gone remote—out of necessity. Here’s the question that you all know that I will inevitably bring up and that most of us are probably already asking: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Do remote meetings replace in-person meetings? I’ll give you my answer right upfront. No, they do not replace them, but they do work.
As I mentioned above, we all continue to do business. We have to, and a big part of that is meetings. It’s something we all need to do. Now many would argue that meetings should be shorter, more efficient, less of them, etc., and I am willing to listen to any discussion around those points. But the most crucial point of all right now is that we need to conduct meetings. They went from in-person to remote when lockdown started, which was around March 20th. Let’s explore that a bit this month.
My days are filled with meetings. Lots of them. Many of these are the same meetings that I would’ve done in person, but now can’t, and you know what I’ve found? I am in a lot more meetings now that they are remote. It’s much easier to get people together now that we are all remote, so it looks like we are all doing more of them. Is it more efficient than meeting in person? Perhaps the meetings are more efficient, but does that mean that I am more productive because I am holding more remote meetings? I don’t know about that.
Remote meetings are necessary, for sure, and it looks like this necessity will be going on for a while longer until things have had the chance to open back up. But even when things do open up, are firms going to let people resume onsite meetings with customers, vendors, and suppliers, immediately? Highly unlikely, even if regulations allow for it. I think it’s going to take a long time before firms will allow that. Rightfully so for safety and health reasons.
We all accept remote meetings because we have to; there is no alternative right now. Because we are considered an essential business (see my rantings on this in last month’s blog post here), we are allowed to keep our building open for the shipping and configuring of systems that we do for our customers, many of which are in healthcare. So we are also allowed to have people in the building, so a handful versus the 80 or so that are generally there. So even the few of us in our building that need to meet do it remotely—even though we 20, 30, or 50 feet apart from each other. How strange and surreal. We also do virtual happy hours with our teams that you see popping up everywhere to get people together in a non-business way. These are terrific and a lot of fun, but do they replace sitting at the bar with your team and having a drink? No, they really don’t.
One of the things I do notice with my remote meetings is that just about everyone is turning on their cameras now, where that was rarely the case just a few months ago. I see that as an improvement. People miss being together and interacting with each other. I’ve also noticed that people tend to be much more courteous to each other as if to say unspoken that we are all in this thing together, and we will get through it together. For someone who believes that manners and courtesy are a big deal, I find this a great thing and are all for that continuing.
So that leads us to the question of my post this month: Do remote meetings replace onsite meetings for doing business? While they are necessary and can be useful, I would have to say the answer is no, probably not. That is coming from someone who had done lots of remote meetings before the pandemic happened, and I felt that way back then too. They don’t replace being together in-person.
I believe that some things will never change in business, and a big one is the need to meet to do business. It creates bonding, camaraderie, teamwork, and a sense of purpose that just isn’t there in a remote meeting, and I don’t believe ever will. So even though I might be speaking and remote meeting with my colleagues and customers as much or perhaps more than before, I have the oddly strange feeling that I haven’t been meeting with them. It’s an odd thing, and I imagine many of us feel the same way.
We can certainly still do business remotely, and for a while, it looks like we’ll have no choice to deal with that, but in the long run, it doesn’t replace in-person meetings. Meetings—and a big part of it is in-person meetings—are how business is conducted and, call me old school, but I don’t think that’s going to change. Don’t get me wrong; remote meetings do work, especially if you have team members spread out throughout the country or the world, but I feel it’s lacking. I don’t see remote meetings ever replacing what onsite meetings do for business, and I believe that most of you agree with me in that.
Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.