Nice to see you, but not too often: Why we love and hate in-person meetings

We had a team meeting in Blackpool a month or so ago. That might not sound particularly noteworthy or glamorous, but we are a virtual technology company, and we’ve been through COVID, so our whole team hadn’t been together for some time. So, we loved the idea of getting together for an Open Audience live event, particularly as some of our new recruits had never met in the flesh before.

Unfortunately, it just so happened that the day before we travelled to Blackpool there was a countrywide rail strike – another challenge in the long list of travel issues that event planners and their delegates are confronting these days. Of course, this meant all the trains were in the wrong place and running late, and all the timetables were wonky, with unreliable connections from the four corners of our nation.  It occurred to us that we might struggle to get everyone there on time, but we like a challenge and so off went the team. Already, though, the shine was coming off the idea of our live event.

Then things took a strange turn when the painful disruption had a positive outcome.  Our crazy journeys to Blackpool somehow became an impromptu team building session, as individuals manoeuvred their way across the country, sharing information on best routes and train times – with the organisers (already in Blackpool) – updating positions and progress as they went.  Team members were triumphant when they bumped into each other at random stations, gathering colleagues as they went, and ultimately most of them ended up arriving on the same train, and on time for the start of the meeting!  Naturally there followed a lot of jesting about how different people looked when you could see all of them in the flesh and not just from the waist up or against a green screen.  So far, so feeling good about Blackpool!

Our live event was in-fact a mini hybrid, as two of our teammates were joining virtually from Italy and Australia, and for a technology engagement company you’d think setting this up would be a cakewalk?  Unfortunately, there had been technical challenges setting up the links with the location tech, (some annoyance), and so our tech team opened their magic toolbox and whipped up a connection from Blackpool to Australia, via Italy, and thankfully we could all virtually hold hands across the globe, so the positive event vibe could continue!

In fact, at the most basic level, these types of challenges around the structure or quality of venue tech can cause big problems – even for the simplest hybrid meetings. In the earlier days of virtual/hybrid this was a real challenge, but thankfully now many venues have upgraded their tech support.

Anyway, without giving the jewels in our strategy crown away, it wouldn’t be a lie to say we loved our experience in Blackpool.  We shared our plans and ideas, we listened to feedback, we brainstormed, we recognised success, we shared sweeties, we laughed and joked. We did a mad treasure hunt around Blackpool and really enjoyed some social time together at meals.  After months apart, and for a global events team, it really felt like a bit of an adventure.

It was the right type of meeting for the job, but would we do it regularly?  Probably not. Firstly, it’s not a good use of time or money – the cost of travel and accommodation or even running an office would be something that we’d need to pass on to clients eventually.  Also, with many employees working from home and/or in different countries and time zones, we can use today’s advanced interactive technology to really get traction from a blended approach, cherry picking the type of meeting for the audience and the content that needs to be shared.

We have weekly virtual catch-ups, individual monthly departmental virtual team meetings, scattered with the odd face-to-face when appropriate. Quarterly Boards are in person and then our bi-annual face-to-face get togethers for the whole team help to re-chargeour connections and chemistry. And that works really well for us.

There will always be a time and place for live meetings, but as we have found, both from personal experience and working with clients, flexibility, responsiveness, and clarity around meetings strategy means that blended solutions can help us deal with the ongoing global and local challenges we face.

About the author:

Leslie Robertson is the Founder of Open Audience, an audience engagement consultancy that specialises in making life sciences meetings more engaging with more positive, successful outcomes – whether in-person or in the virtual space. The Open Audience team helps to strategise and prepare pre- and post-meeting as well as providing real-time support and guidance during the meeting. Open Audience also offers customisable, multilingual engagement platforms that include interactive polling, surveys, and ideas exchange.


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