The movie “Back to the Future Part II,” which was released in 1989, depicted what the future would be like in 2015. Uncannily, it correctly predicted several technological advancements that we have had around the same times such as wearable technology, drones for gathering news, flat-screen TVs mounted on the wall, tablet computers, animated billboards, hands-free video games, and video chat systems.
The last one, in particular, was accurately demonstrated in a scene where 2015 Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), who by then was an adult with a job and family of his own, was talking to Needles, his irate boss (played by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea) via video call.
It’s most likely safe to assume that people back in 1989 would have had no inkling that three decades later, communicating with others via TV or mobile phone screens would become the norm in a world wracked by COVID-19.
As the 2020s rolled in, most parts of the world locked themselves in, not letting their citizens out or foreigners in to curb the spread of the highly contagious and totally novel virus that has claimed the lives of around 6.3 million people to date. As a result, most companies that managed to remain operational had to make their employees work from home.
While it had been done before, especially in companies with employees from around the world, meeting virtually nevertheless became a major part of everyone’s lives, including students who had to make do with distance learning. It was great at first, but within two years, more and more people began pining for face-to-face meetings and a return to “normal” social activity.
Face-to-Face vs. Virtual Meetings: What’s the Diff?
A face-to-face or F2F meeting is a physical gathering of people in a single location to discuss topics or to listen to a speaker. So, it could be inside a company’s seminar room or, if it involves all or most of the employees, it could be on company grounds or any place that can hold a large group of people.
A virtual meeting, on the other hand, is a kind of mediated communication where several individuals from different places and even time zones gather in a virtual meeting room. These meeting rooms are usually provided by a video conferencing tool such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams.
So basically, just like an F2F meeting, a virtual meeting needs to have all participants joining in at the same time even if they are at different places and time zones. For this reason, it is also known as a synchronous meeting.
Technically, the opposite of an F2F meeting is not a virtual meeting but mediated communication.
Whereas an F2F meeting means all participants are in the same room, seeing each other, talking to each other, and interacting with one another in person, mediated communication is when there is a third party, a medium, that facilitates the exchange of communication so that the participants need not be at the same place. All they need to have is a device or gadget (the medium) that would allow them to interact with the others even if they are practically thousands of miles away (as in when NASA talks to the astronauts at the International Space Station).
Today, since most virtual meetings are done through computers, whether they be desktops, laptops, tablets, or smartphones, they are often referred to as computer-mediated communication or CMC.
Do note, however, that even a simple handwritten letter sent by postal mail to a relative or friend from far away is also considered mediated communication. So too is the sending of Morse codes, smoke and other signals, as well as a conversation made using analog telephones.
This means that mediated communication is any kind of exchange of information between two parties with the aid of a technical medium.
Basic Types of Mediated Communication
When we say basic, it means there is no high-technology assistance, such as in the following:
Invented in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, this allows the exchange of information without the two parties speaking with each other. This proves very useful, especially for long-distance communication. There is also less confusion as the message is recorded and can be read as is.
Thanks to Johannes Gutenberg inventing the printing press in the 15th century, large-scale production of books and other printed materials became so much easier and cheaper, paving the way for the world to become more literate.
Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)
On the other hand, we have CMC, which is what practically everyone born in the late ‘80s onward is familiar with. While they may have an idea of what a snail mail is, sending a letter through the post is deemed impractical and a waste of time as they can send a message and get a reply in a matter of seconds through any of the following:
A message sent through a computer through internet or intranet connectivity. The very first one was sent by Raymond Tomlinson, a computer programmer, on October 29, 1969.
A short message sent from one cellphone to another. It became the most popular form of messaging system since the very first one was sent on Dec. 3, 1992, until instant messaging came into the picture.
The exchange of information through text using a common network or platform (Google Talk, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger) using the internet.
Also using the internet as the bridge to communication, this type of communication allows video and audio to be streamed from both parties so that they see and hear each other. This is deemed as the next best thing to face-to-face communication although it does have its drawbacks, which we’ll discuss below.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Meetings
We may have not been ready for COVID-19 when it started raging across the world in 2020 but, as we humans have proven throughout history, we will always be resilient, especially today when we have modern science and technology at our disposal.
So along with the vaccines that were hurriedly developed and administered with mostly satisfying results, we have also adjusted the way we study, conduct our business, and even consume entertainment. We simply went “virtual.”
Most everything in our daily lives became virtual: virtual meetings, virtual classrooms, virtual school graduations, virtual concerts, virtual tours, and even virtual funeral wakes. What this meant was that instead of being personally there, we attend an event not by going out but by going online.
For a lot of employees, being able to work from home was a wish granted. No more stressful commutes to and from the office. No need to hurry up in the morning to get ready for work. And no need to dress up fully when there’s a meeting. This is just on the personal side. In general, here are the more important advantages of conducting virtual meetings:
- More employee productive hours since there’s no time being spent on commuting.
- Savings on transportation costs since there’s no need to travel to work.
- Easier to focus on agendas and stick to time limits.
On the other side of the coin, these are the setbacks of virtual meetings and working from home:
- Technical issues such as a slow or spotty internet connection or a slow computer can make the communication process frustrating.
- Remote work has created a new employee condition called “Zoom fatigue” arising from the seemingly endless virtual meetings held every day as the company’s way to keep in touch with their workers.
- Being cooped up in the house for a prolonged period has caused mental issues in many individuals.
- There is limited opportunity to build a stronger relationship with new employees as they are unable to immerse in the company’s culture.
- It is harder to gauge the employee’s state of mind because non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language are not as apparent compared to face-to-face meetings.
Why Face-to-Face Meetings Are Still Preferable
In business, there’s a school of thought that says if an email can achieve the same result as that of a meeting (whether face-to-face or virtual), then that should be the preferred manner of communication.
Indeed, a lot of times, this is true as it saves precious hours that employees should be devoting to productivity. But it’s also true that there are special times when meetings, most especially face-to-face or in-person, are the better alternative. Here are 12 instances that best illustrate this point:
- When we want to establish trust between team members. This includes clarifying differences and validating emotions. Empathy just doesn’t seem to be communicated well through electronic means.
- When personal connections need to be strengthened.
- When we need to have more insightful communication, which means not only listening to the words of one another but also looking at and interpreting their body language and facial expression.
- When discussing highly emotional issues. Discussions done online can be hampered by slow or spotty internet connection, as well as the general feeling of being too impersonal. This can cause you to miss the chance to empathize or sympathize.
- When a more critical conversation needs to take place such as when a valuable employee expresses their desire to resign immediately. While a quick phone call or instant messaging can also be effective, it’s only to make sure that you will have the chance to talk to them to flesh things out or at least to have a more satisfying reason for their decision.
- When a volatile or personal or highly sensitive topic needs to be discussed. This is similar to item #5 and may be the key to preventing the person from considering resigning in the first place.
- When establishing a new relationship. It could be new employees or a new partner in business. Meeting them in person immediately establishes your commitment to them.
- When you need to be very specific. Emails and especially chats can be misinterpreted or even become a source of confusion if they are not worded correctly. Talking directly with the person, face-to-face, will make it easier for both of you to clear up the air.
- When sensitive information must be communicated. Again, this is to ensure that there is small to no room for any kind of misinterpretation and that clarifications can be made at the moment.
- When you need to establish team camaraderie. There’s simply not a lot of chance for group bonding if you only see each other through computer or smartphone screens.
- When a client needs to be persuaded. Being there, in person, will convince your client that you are serious about what you are offering since you took the time off to meet them in person.
- When you have to fire someone. It’s easy to cop out of this responsibility especially if you don’t like the person you’re letting go of by simply sending them an email or a letter of termination. But that’s not how a professional works, much less an upright human being. You owe it to them to explain why they are being let go even if it’s their fault.
The Importance of Hybrid Work
So, as you can see from the arguments we have made, there is merit in both virtual and face-to-face meetings. Which one should you embrace then?
During pre-pandemic times, it would be easier to answer this question. Of course, we want to have all our employees in the office on all of their working days. That’s just how things were. But now that we have known that a lot of employees can also be productive working from home, then a new working model is in order: hybrid work.
Simply put, a hybrid work model allows employees to work from home on specific days of the week and then work from the office at other times. This, while also allowing other employees to work from home 100% of the time while others work full-time in the office. It’s a flexible system that should benefit everyone, including the company, because of these reasons:
- Employees feel more empowered. By giving them the chance to gauge where they can be most productive, employees will feel that the company trusts them enough. This will encourage them to prove the company right on its decision by being productive.
- Employees can pursue other personal development goals that would also benefit the company since they can very well manage their time if they’re not required to be in the office every workday.
- There is less room for drudgery. Hybrid working allows employees to savor the best of both worlds. They have all the freedom to do their tasks and attend virtual meetings at home and they also have the opportunity to bond with co-employees during office days. It’s a win-win arrangement.
- In connection with item #3, this helps employees maintain a healthy disposition and lessen the possibility of mental health issues. There is no overwhelming feeling of being cooped up (like during the lockdowns that happened in the early days of COVID-19).
Why a Coworking Space is Ideal for Hybrid Work
What exactly is a coworking space? As the name suggests, it’s a place that you share with other people from other companies or who are freelancers. While at first glance this may seem chaotic and prone to security issues, coworking spaces such as Weremote are designed to offer maximum comfort to employees and maximum benefit to companies.
Hailed as the future of work, the coworking space is veering away from the traditional desk-and-chair or cubicle setup and going for a more collaborative atmosphere despite hosting different companies.
Massive tables are provided so that employees would have enough elbow room to work in peace yet are a part of a collaborative community that can help them grow further. These workspaces come with all the amenities of a true-blue office, with internet connectivity and other office equipment.
Many coworking spaces also offer private offices that can be leased on a monthly basis, as well as meeting rooms where teams can have their F2F discussions. Weremote even offers free coffee or tea, which to a startup company with limited resources, is a massive benefit because we all know how most employees love drinking coffee or tea while working.
A coworking space is ideal for hybrid work because of its flexible payment terms and schedule (they are even open 24 hours so that it’s easier to set up employees in shifts). It also beats setting up a permanent office that is half-empty half of the time, yet the company is paying in full for its rental and other utilities.
It also cannot be more emphasized how a coworking space maintains a professional atmosphere that is free from distractions so that employees working there will be much more productive. Compare it to working from home where street noise, a barking dog, and even people having fun or quarreling can easily disrupt productive thoughts.
There’s so much that a coworking space offers, and companies on a hybrid work model should take advantage of this fairly new service. If hybrid work is now the new normal, then a coworking space is the most ideal place for it.
COVID-19 may soon be gone or progress from being a pandemic to merely endemic just like the seasonal flu, but its effects on the world are likely to stay for a long time. It has underlined the benefits and pitfalls of face-to-face and virtual meetings and how companies can take advantage of both by embracing hybrid work.