Virtual Meetings are Here to Stay

Virtual meetings, virtual strategy sessions and virtual training have been a dominant feature of daily business life for the past 12 months. In fact, “you are on mute” may be the most spoken phase of 2020. Fingers crossed, we will see the tail end of Covid-19 in the next 12 months, but what is the fate of all this Zoom time?

After a brief scramble in March through April of 2020, virtual meetings are now our staple at The Planning Group. We have travelled a little in between restrictions and we have facilitated some pretty amazing hybrid strategy sessions, but mostly, we have helped boards and management teams make great strategy, improve processes and pivot; all in virtual meetings. With each passing month, clients are requesting longer virtual meetings and many full-blown strategic planning retreats…all virtual. Pent-up demand is a factor, but more importantly, our clients seem more comfortable with the approach of virtual meetings. Early security concerns of Zoom and other tools are largely behind us and the tools themselves are improving to make virtual facilitation easier and more productive. While Microsoft is far behind Zoom in ease of access, at least they have finally added breakout capabilities to Teams.

Of course, we have learned and adjusted and pivoted and then readjusted our approach within those tools to maximize the outcomes of our virtual facilitation and deliver outcomes as close to live facilitated sessions as possible. We truly miss the underappreciated benefits of a shared glass of wine between an afternoon strategy retreat kick-off and a full day strategic planning session. We mostly understood the tremendous side benefits of in-person breakout groups, meeting room lunches and shared jokes, but we took them for granted pre-Covid. Without the important benefits of in-person meetings, we have created many virtual facilitation tactics to not only make virtual meetings more productive, but help participants be more comfortable. That comfort coupled with a general acceptance (or resignation) of virtual meetings has spurred our clients and many other organizations to really embrace the positives of virtual meetings. The lack of interpersonal time happens to translate to time savings in our virtual meetings. Yes, Zoom is a bit cold, but the meetings are efficient.

One small example in our work is breakout sessions. Any level of meaningful group discussion in a room with more than 12 people is very difficult. In a virtual meeting, it is impossible. Much of the work and most of the cohesion in our live meetings is accomplished in breakout groups. On Zoom, it is 90%. Like the virtual session itself, virtual breakouts are much more time efficient. A breakout which would consume 45 minutes in a live session takes 25 minutes virtually. 25 minutes live becomes 12 minutes virtually and 15 minutes becomes 8 minutes. In fact, the true time saver is the lost time before and after breakout sessions. Remarkably, we can waste upwards of 45 minutes chasing people to and from breakout groups in a full day live meeting. In a virtual meeting, this waste is reduced to zero. Not accounting for the time associated with travel, many organizations are seeing the pure productivity of well facilitated virtual meetings.

So what does this mean for a post-Covid world? If your favorite conference was back on in January 2022 and just a plane trip away, will you go? Will your company allow you to go? How long before your full board and management team will be allowed to and wish to spend 3 days together at a strategy retreat? We ask our clients these questions every day, and many think business travel and business meetings will never recover to pre-Covid levels. The tools have adapted. Facilitation has adapted. We have adapted. It may be 3-5 years before regulation, company travel policy and personal comfort return to pre-Covid levels. In those years, virtual meetings will continue to evolve and improve. Virtual meetings are here to stay.