It wasn’t long ago when in-person meetings were our only option. No matter how small, we’d have to dress up, drive into the office, and sit together in the same room. We’re fortunate this is no longer the case. Technology, along with a cultural shift away from less flexible workplace models, has made it possible for us to meet and collaborate from virtually anywhere.
That said, is there still a time and a place for the in-person meeting? While mandatory office policies have been met with significant pushback, there's no denying that in-person meetings can offer certain benefits that fully remote or hybrid meetings cannot.
But when is it actually more beneficial for you and your team to physically meet up?
Let’s explore these questions by breaking down what you get — and don’t get — out of the in-person format, then considering some scenarios when in-person is probably the right choice.
Pros and cons of in-person meetings
Some people prefer them, while others can’t stand them. The truth is, there are things to both love and hate about in-person meetings. So rather than just automatically falling on one side or the other, it can be helpful to first understand their pros and cons so you know when an in-person meeting makes sense.
Pros of in-person meetings
Here are some distinct advantages of meeting face-to-face instead of virtually:
- More fluid communication: Communication technology has come a long way, but nothing can really compare to the fluid, real-time spontaneity of an in-person conversation. The ability to answer questions quickly, change topics on the fly, pick up on visual cues, and even have multiple conversations at once all help make communication in-person much easier.
- Easier team-building: While there are plenty of ways teams can foster relationships online, there’s still something special about all being in the same room together. Not only is communication much more fluid, but it'll also likely be much easier to organize and run team-building activities and foster a sense of camaraderie.
- Fewer distractions: In-person meetings may not be completely devoid of distractions, but there are arguably fewer. Plus, unlike those online, any in-person distractions can usually be controlled much easier. All that needs to be done is to ask everyone to put away their laptops, silence their phones, and pay attention.
- More professional: In-person meetings were the default for decades, whereas emerging technologies — from the phone to the Zoom call — have always felt more casual. Even today, this relationship remains. Meeting in person, shaking hands, and looking each other in the eye just feels more formal and professional for many people, which can make a big difference in certain situations, such as important client meetings.
- Greater variety of visuals: Although the virtual space is quickly closing in, there remain more options for presenting ideas and increasing engagement when meeting in person. These include the ability to use physical demonstrations, pass around props or samples, and use senses (such as smell or touch) that can’t be replicated digitally.
Cons of meeting in-person
In-person meetings certainly don’t have it all. Here are some of their unique disadvantages:
- Less flexible: By their definition, in-person meetings require everyone to be in the same place at the same time. That may make it much more difficult for people who don’t live nearby or who have conflicting schedules, potentially excluding them from the discussion.
- Time-consuming: Not only is there the time spent traveling to and from the meeting, but there's also the length of the meeting itself. It may be easier for people to communicate in-person, but it’s also easier for people to stray off topic or get distracted by side conversations, all of which can make the meeting much longer than it needs to be.
- Higher cost: The expenses of in-person meetings can come in from all over. There’s the cost of traveling there, the meals and supplies that are needed during the meeting, and of course the price of the office or room where the meeting is taking place. If people are traveling from far away to attend, these costs can quickly add up.
- Logistical challenges: In-person meetings, especially large ones or those that may be especially long, can be much harder to plan for than their virtual counterparts. Considerations may include booking venues, arranging catering, and making sure all participants have the necessary resources and accommodations.
- Documentation: Whereas virtual meetings will often automatically be recorded and transcribed, this isn’t the case when meeting in-person. Even with someone assigned as a scribe, it can be difficult to catch all the ideas and items discussed, especially if the meeting involved a mix of visual and physical components.
When you should hold an in-person meeting
Folks might be annoyed by an in-person meeting that could have easily been done virtually (or even just turned into an email). But there are also consequences of meeting virtually when it would have been better to get together in-person, such as reduced team cohesion, greater ambiguity, and productivity losses. To help you avoid this, here are a few situations where it’s probably better to meet face-to-face.
Building rapport and getting to know colleagues
From virtual icebreakers to one-on-one breakouts, there are some clever ways to get to know colleagues in the remote and hybrid world. However, for most people, meeting up in-person remains the most effective way to form lasting bonds.
After all, it’s only natural. Although there may be many of us who think of ourselves as being entirely too online, we’re still human. That means we have a unique ability to pick up on even the smallest facial expressions, to read the subtleties of body language, and to generally feel each other out. And all that can best be done in the physical presence of other humans, not behind a screen. It’s where we can get to know each other as whole people rather than just another talking head.
Solving complex creative problems
Sometimes it’s necessary to get a group together to break down complicated topics and come up with creative solutions. While it’s possible to do this with a remote or hybrid team, you’re likely to find the conversation flowing much more easily when everyone’s in the same room.
That’s because the combination of complexity and creativity requires a team capable of first taking in and synthesizing a great deal of information together, then using that information to create something new. That’s not a simple task. Unless your team is well-versed and comfortable with digital brainstorming, then they’ll likely benefit from being able to quickly converse with other coworkers, share resources, and have side conversations, all while navigating different priorities as they follow the conversation along its natural course.
Manipulating physical objects as a team
If your meeting requires any sort of physical component, then you’re going to be more successful if everyone is physically present. This may seem obvious, but consider all of the ways people try to get around this fact. There are virtual walk-throughs of homes, interactive schematics of product designs, fly-through videos. Even virtual and augmented reality has become part of the conversation.
All this isn't to say that there’s not a place for these innovations — they can be wonderful solutions if everyone can’t be present. Yet, if possible, meeting in-person will be the only way for participants to directly engage with the object, place, or material. This will allow them to make observations from multiple angles, explore its full look and feel, and gain a more tangible, hands-on experience. And that'll ultimately lead to a deeper understanding that produces better, more precise outcomes.
Interacting face-to-face with customers or patrons
The speed and convenience of virtual meetings can be wonderful. No matter where someone's located, no matter how last-minute, it’s possible to connect. But this isn’t always a virtue. When you’re cultivating business relationships, for instance, it’s important to show how much you value them. And there’s no better way to do this than showing up in person.
Reserving a space, preparing the room, and setting aside the extra time will all be evidence of what this relationship means to you. Meeting with them isn’t worthy of a tossed-off Zoom call — it’s a significant event. Plus, getting to be in the same room will allow you to be more present with them. You can pick up on their body language and tone of voice, communicate more fluidly, and focus completely on what they have to say. All of this will help build trust and establish a stronger connection.
5 tips for improving your in-person meetings
If you’ve spent all your meeting time since the pandemic adapting to digital conversations and remote brainstorms, you may find that you’re a bit out of practice in the in-person form. (Don’t worry, you’re not alone.) So here are a few strategies to keep in mind as you once again start gathering coworkers and customers in the same room.
1. Keep your in-person meetings focused
In-person meetings are opportunities to be intentional. They’re supposed to take people away from other tasks and responsibilities. That’s what makes this time so valuable — and also why they need to stay focused. Don’t use up people’s precious time with small talk. Instead, create an agenda, set some ground rules, and get to work. Whether your goal is team-building or testing out a new prototype, this approach will ensure everyone stays on track and makes the most of this time.
2. Encourage open and transparent communication
A central reason for gathering your team in person is because it should make communication much easier. But if people don’t feel comfortable talking to one another, then what’s the point? Try to avoid this scenario altogether by pressing for open and transparent communication. Start by setting an example and inviting people to ask questions and offer feedback. Reinforce psychological safety by practicing active listening, welcoming new voices, and always showing respect. You could even encourage more open communication by augmenting your meetings with digital tools. That way, you can encourage open participation without putting anyone on the spot.
3 Make an effort to build connection while in-person
Take advantage of the in-person format by making sure you connect and relate with other participants. You can do this by using your whole body to show your interest. Make eye contact and offer a warm smile to make yourself approachable, then give your full attention to the person you’re speaking with. Ask them open-ended questions, then reciprocate when they do the same. If you are facilitating the meeting, encourage these kinds of conversations by inviting everyone to turn to the person next to them at the start of the meeting to get to know them. With a little creativity, you could even turn this into a game.
4. Keep a digital record of in-person meetings
Conversation can flow fast and furious during in-person sessions. While that can be good for generating ideas, it can make it much harder to properly record. Even the most diligent scribes are bound to miss something. That’s why it’s smart to take a digital-first approach to documenting. There are many ways to do this. You could simply set up a camera, then share the recording with participants later. You could also save everyone some time by using transcription software to pull out the main ideas and action items. Or you could use our meeting notes template to take a more collaborative approach. That way, you can make sure the most important parts of the meeting get recorded, while also helping provide that everyone stays engaged.
5. Debrief after the meeting and follow up with action items
Just like any other meeting, you’ll want to make sure you reserve some time at the very end to quickly review what was said, then share any immediate action items. Especially for longer meetings, this will help give the conversation a focus, as well as provide everyone with a tangible set of tasks to go out and complete. Don’t worry if you miss a few things. If you’ve documented the meeting in some way, you can always send out a follow-up chat or email with a more complete summary or list of action items for everyone. Remember to also link out to any supporting resources so that they can have everything in one place.
Make the most of all your meetings
In-person meetings, once our only option, have rightfully received scrutiny in recent years. But as remote and hybrid work has become more normal (and their limitations more obvious), it’s worth reconsidering where the in-person meeting fits in — recognizing that it’ll always be one of the modes of work. Although it might not be the right form for every meeting, it can nevertheless offer teams a powerful way to collaborate.
Learning when to hold virtual vs. in-person meetings is the first step. The next step is learning how to make sure you’re making the most of those meetings. When it comes to in-person, that means leaning into what makes them so effective in the first place: their ability to help teams communicate, create, and connect. Fortunately, this isn’t all on you.
Mural gives you a whole toolset you can use to augment and enhance your in-person meetings. Whether you’re looking for a blank slate to sketch out your ideas or need a more specific task or template, we’ve got you covered. Try it out to see what we can do.