"Should we meet in person?"
It's a question many of us will be asking as our COVID 19 anxieties recede.
The answer has big implications, especially for executives, managers and business travelers.
The Dilemma of How to Meet
There is pent-up demand for meeting in person. Not for every meeting, or from every person, but still, people want that in-person connection, that energy, those sparks.
Today the default method is to meet virtually. But as we move past COVID, we'll have more options to meet in person. The question is should we?
It's an easier decision if this means gathering folks back into their local offices. It's a much tougher decision if it means asking people to spend time and money to travel for a meeting.
Four Big Barriers Remain After Covid 19
Once the COVID problem is behind us, can we expect a full-scale return to holding our meetings in person as we did in 2019? No, for these reasons:
The first is the attraction of working from home (WFH). It's not everybody's cup of tea, but enough people are sold on this to make this a big part of how we'll work in the future. If you don't need to go to the office to work, why do you need to travel? WFH will eliminate a chunk of those taken-for-granted in-person meetings.
The second is the sustainability factor. Many people and their employers will factor a meeting's impact on our climate. No travel means no carbon emissions. This will suppress the number of in-person meetings and in-person attendees.
Third is the widespread adoption of virtual meetings. Like it or not, this meeting mode has proven to be an acceptable substitute for meeting in person. Virtual meetings are essential to those working from home, and are clearly aligned with sustainability goals. The virtual meeting is here to stay.
Travel's Biggest Barrier is The CFO's Logic
For anyone requesting a budget for business trips, the CFO's default challenge will be "Why can't you do those meetings virtually? Virtual meetings work and they have no cost or carbon emissions, right?"
Justifying a travel budget will be a lot harder from now on. Yes, we know intuitively that sometimes you just need to meet in person...but can you sell that gut feeling to a CFO? It's hard to beat the ROI of a virtual meeting...or is it?
The Hidden Costs of Virtual Meetings - Think Outcomes
Turns out that virtual meetings can have significant hidden costs. These come in the form of risks of not achieving the meeting's desired outcomes. tClara surveyed 172 business executives about this issue. Results showed that every one of 20 risks were believed to be more or much more likely present in virtual meetings. So yes, you can save time and money by meeting virtually, but at what cost if your meeting misses its mark?
How to Decide How to Meet
Trying to estimate the return on investment (ROI) on a prospective trip can't be done - not credibly and not at scale. There are too many variables to account for, and no clear time horizon. Admit predicting the ROI on travel is a false god and give up on that approach.
The better lens? Risk versus reward. It's what managers do - make judgements about a bunch of intangible factors. So we need a tool that puts some of those intangibles into a framework, an algorithm, to help make the trade-off more clear.