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The future of face to face

Published 13 October 2021 / 4 min read

office meetings_online meetings

Meetings are an essential part of business life, but in this post-pandemic world, we’re realising just how important in-person communication can be, and how technology is adjusting to help.

I have always loved a ‘good’ meeting. Getting to know your colleagues and clients is infinitely easier if you’re sitting around a table, whether in a boardroom or bar. Problems can be quickly resolved, ideas get thrashed out, and relationships forged. When the pandemic hit I missed this personal interaction, and the benefits it brought to the business.

Virtual meetings have been a lifeline for many companies – including my own – offering a new take on the traditional sit down, but it came as no surprise to me when I read a survey by CensusWide, that suggested 72% of people prefer to get together to do business in person.

But what really makes face-to-face better, and now lockdown is easing, is there still a place for virtual meetings?


Making the effort

Meeting a client in person shows that you value their time and business. Travelling to see someone shows commitment, and presenting yourself appropriately – no pyjama bottoms under the table please – is a mark of respect. Clients will naturally feel as if they have connected with you better if you meet with them in person. Seeing a face on a virtual call is one thing, but being in a room together shows you’re devoting all your time to them…and certainly not checking emails as you chat!


Reading the room

Face to face communication also lets you read hand gestures, body language and facial expressions better. Non-verbal cues can tell you a huge amount about a person. You can see in an instant how someone is feeling, are they excited by you or distracted, attentive or bored, friendly or frosty?

To a certain point reading body language is instinctive, but practice and experience in real-world scenarios will hone your ability to pick up on these non-verbal cues. You’ll do well to learn as much about a person virtually, especially at the beginning of a client relationship, where trust has not necessarily been established.

Reading these non-verbal signs could become a lost art if we solely rely on technology for our communication. Body language, tone of voice and eye contact are so important, and while the sophistication of online meeting platforms is improving, talking to people in person will always be preferable.


Face-to-face meetings are more productive

Yes, we have all been stuck in a meeting that has been a total waste of time. But a properly organised and structured meeting is almost always more productive than video conferencing, a phone call or email chains.

As a team, face-to-face interaction and socialisation lead to a greater sense of community and camaraderie, which leads to a stronger working relationship in the long term. A post-work drink and gossip will never be the same over a webcam.

Virtual meetings are wonderfully convenient, time saving, and cheap, but they can also be awkward. Face to face you may still have to deal with the person who loves the sound of their own voice, but at least you don’t have to factor in who’s talking, who’s on mute, who’s taking minutes and why that camera is off. 

It is also more tempting to browse your text messages or social media profiles when you are on a virtual call. In-person communication means that the temptation of checking your phone is eliminated, and productivity is maximised. You might call it multi-tasking, but the client just thinks you’re distracted. 


Communication is clearer

With in-person meetings, conversation will generally flow a lot more naturally. This enables us to be clearer with our objectives, come up with more ideas and lead to more opportunities.

And for me, this is where virtual meetings generally fail the most. Over a video call it is easy to misinterpret an action point or instruction if you can’t properly communicate with your colleagues. What’s more, in research carried out by Forbes, a quarter of people surveyed said that in-person meetings are better because there’s no chance of technological interruptions. The dropped Wi-Fi signal, poor microphone, and background noise all make online meetings more stressful than they need to be.


Virtual solutions

Online meetings are now a part of everyday life for the vast majority of businesses, and while I will always prefer in-person meetings, the cost and time savings made by using video are difficult to ignore.

But you shouldn’t have to settle for a poor quality online experience. We’ve all adapted to virtual meetings, improved our cameras, tidied up our backdrops, even adjusted the lighting to look better on cam, but poor sound quality remains a constant issue. Which is why we developed IRIS Clarity, an AI algorithm that has been taught to differentiate between background sounds and human voice. 

Once downloaded to your computer, IRIS Clarity not only removes unwanted background noise from all ends of the conversation, it also allows for communications to be so clear that you feel as though you are all in the same room having a conversation. By removing the unwanted background babble you get at home, in cafes and offices, you’re able to hear and be heard, just like you’re in a private meeting room in the office again.

When sound becomes clearer your ability to work the room becomes so much easier. There’s no more, ‘say that again?’ and ‘could you go on mute?’ stifling the flow of a conversation. Without constant distractions those non-verbal cues are easier to spot, ideas can flow, and conversations can become meaningful. 

Virtual meetings will never replace the need for real, in-person communication, but with IRIS Clarity eliminating background noise, when you do need to chat virtually, whatever else might be distracting you online, it won’t be poor sound quality.