Should your next meeting be online or in person?

After more than two years of pandemic-forced separation, organizations of all kinds are eager to find their employees in the same room, whether it’s for mega-events like an annual meeting, or simply working a few days a week at the office. , or anything in between.

For business communicators, this is good news. In-person gatherings have undeniable benefits for getting your message across and ensuring it sticks around long after the microphones and folding chairs have been put away.

But another byproduct of the pandemic has been the vast improvement in communication technologies – better video quality, more flexible formats – that have brought the virtual experience closer to real life.

The pandemic has also helped organizational leaders feel more comfortable with virtual communications, largely because no other type was possible. And as employees spent more time communicating with colleagues virtually, they were also seeing the benefits: more focus, less travel, not to mention more casual attire.

However, recent studies clearly show tensions between employers and employees over the issue of hybrid versus in-person work when workers are called back to the office.

According to law firm Littler, which surveyed 700 employers across Europe, employees now see the ability to work flexibly as part of any job offer, along with adequate pay and a safe working environment. . Employers, meanwhile, want to return to a more structured, in-person organization that they believe is necessary for building teams and transmitting organizational culture.

Managing this tension is one of the greatest challenges in the workplace today, according to the survey.

So while the pent-up desire can be strong and the benefits are always undeniable, corporate communicators need to ensure that any in-person gathering is truly the best way to get their message across, both verbally and non-verbally. .

Here are some benchmarks.

1/ How important is the personal touch?

Chip Conley, entrepreneur and Airbnb advisor, has a helpful way of thinking about messaging in a business context: Are they transactional or transformational?

Transactional communications are essentially one-way streets. You have the information and you need to get it out there so people can act on it. They may have questions, and you need to deal with them quickly, but you don’t need to do it in real time.

Transformational communications, on the other hand, are about sharing and inspiration. Think team building, relationship building, traditional rites of passage – anything where the intangible benefits of bringing people together will likely outweigh the costs and risks.

The more transformational the message, Conley says, the more important it is to deliver it in person.

Laura Vanderkam, a time management and productivity expert, talks about the “emotional contagion” of an in-person event. If you want to introduce a new program to your employees, you can send them an email or schedule a conference call to give them the details. If you want them to be as excited about it as you are, on the other hand, you’re probably better off conveying the excitement in person.

For communications professionals, the implications are clear: don’t waste in-person meetings on announcing data, or details of the new employee stock ownership plan, or health and safety protocols.

But schedule an in-person meeting to build excitement for a strategic new venture, or to celebrate the annual promotion class, or to brainstorm a longer-term or more complex initiative.

2/ Do you want random interaction and frank comments?

Global law firm Clifford Chance held its first in-person Annual Partners Meeting in three years last October. More than 500 people gathered in Paris for two days of events, including dinners and discussions on topics such as generational change, geopolitics, diversity and inclusion.

According to the participants, networking was also on the agenda. A mainland European-based partner who recently joined the firm said he met “about 300” people, describing it as an “incredible achievement”.

“I spoke with many partners from America, Singapore, Luxembourg, Amsterdam,” the partner told legal publication International. “I hope I can benefit from these relationships in the future.”

As Clifford Chance’s example illustrates, the most valuable part of an in-person gathering takes place outside the meeting rooms and away from the overhead projectors – in the informal conversations and opportunities to connect with colleagues who until there were perhaps only disembodied. faces on Zoom.

But the law firm was not content to provide the equivalent of a cruise ship and encourage attendees to meet on the Lido deck. He also wanted their help in dealing with complex and difficult problems. In addition to soliciting their ideas, the company wanted to make attendees feel like they were part of the solution. Breakout sessions and feedback loops were an essential part of both days.

Communications professionals often struggle to persuade business leaders that they need feedback from all sides, especially feedback they don’t want to hear. For organizations that want to show they value candid feedback and impromptu brainstorming, there’s no better model than showing up in person.

3/ Can you go the extra mile to make it worth it?

An in-person meeting demands a lot from everyone involved: time, travel, attention span. Organizers need to be doubly sure that the effort will be worth it – and not just in terms of money. Attendees should feel like they’ve had a valuable experience that they couldn’t have had during a videoconference, no matter how well produced.

One way to do this is to bring in some old-fashioned star power. Make sure senior leaders are on hand and knowledgeable – to present, yes, but also to mingle, answer and ask questions.

Another way is to bring in special guests – leading figures in the field who attendees would do their best to meet, but who no longer have to.

Clifford Chance spiced up its recent partners meeting with sessions from well-known policy analysts, senior executives from client companies and leading academics.

The firm’s communications team also ensured that the new managing partner, Charles Adams, and other high-profile partners were active and visible. A European partner said Adams and his team spoke to “as many people as possible”, adding: “They were happy to chat and were very open-minded”.

Whatever the news, whatever the context, this is the message you want to convey.

Comments are closed.