According to a recent Forbes study, eight in 10 executives say they now prefer in-person meetings to virtual ones. This can hardly come as a surprise — after all, the transition to remote work was so sudden and exponential that a backlash was inevitable.
In the wake of 2020’s global lockdown, studies showed that 56% of global companies allowed hybrid remote schedules, and 16% allowed their workforce to be entirely remote. Furthermore, this trend did not lose ground when the lockdown lifted. In 2020, 48% of remote workers employed video conferences for meetings. By 2022, the number had risen to 77%.
As executives for a company with an over 99% virtual workforce, we have become accustomed to the convenience of video conferencing and are quick to promote the flexibility and freedom of remote work. Still, as time goes on, we can see room for improvement.
Remote work retains much of its initial allure for employees, but many are finding that it comes at a cost. We have developed efficient lines of communication, but even after three years, the remote workplace culture still presents challenges when it comes to team-building and fostering connections.
The benefit of face-to-face interaction
A survey from PromoLeaf reveals that more than 70% of participants prefer in-person events over virtual conferences. They say that face-to-face events offer networking opportunities and social interaction that video conferences cannot replicate.
One of the most in-depth studies in this area comes from MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab, in which researchers used electronic badges to track performance drivers by collecting data on body language and tone of voice over hundreds of hours. The study’s results demonstrate that communication is most effective in person. In fact, findings suggest that up to 35% of a team’s performance variation can be explained by how many times that team speaks face-to-face.
When companies give up in-person meetings altogether, there are bound to be some caveats. A recent study from Nature Human Behavior, for example, demonstrates that companies without in-person meetings see at least 25% of employees spending less time collaborating with co-workers and less time engaging in knowledge transfer with colleagues outside their immediate network.
The study also finds that these remote workers take longer to engage with new employees. As such, the researchers conclude that the shift to remote work reduces networking and connectivity across the organization as a whole.
Planning in-person events
At Cyberbacker, we specialize in virtual assistance, so naturally, our Cyberbackers and clients are located all around the world.
However, when we hosted our first annual franchise meeting, we invited franchise owners from the US and Canada to join us at the company headquarters, and we flew in 10 Cyberbackers from the Philippines. For this event, our goal was to brainstorm with franchise owners and executive team members to formulate a growth plan for the next five years.
When Cyberbacker floated the idea of an in-person event to promote collaboration, brainstorming, and team building, several questioned whether the travel, time, and on-site expenses would be worth the trouble. Gathering our global team to one central location required massive effort, but during that week of in-person interaction, networking, and bonding, we rediscovered the value of meeting face-to-face.
As remote Cyberbackers met, some of us shaking hands for the first time ever, we learned that crossing state lines – or even an ocean – to connect in person is well worth the cost.
During that one week, our team established a new level of connection. We experienced team-building activities and one-on-one conversations on a whole new level. We made eye contact, built rapport through body language, and shared intimacy through high-fives and fist bumps.
This in-person conference was undoubtedly a hassle to plan and expensive to host. Still, in hindsight, we absolutely believe the investment was a sound one. The benefits of face-to-face connections we experienced will have a profound impact on our work for months – one that far outweighed the cost.
Related: The power of a corporate retreat: 5 reasons why you should do it
This opinion was not ours alone. As we waited on our rides to the airport, a franchisee told us, “We came here as individual business owners, but we leave knowing and feeling we are part of a family. To have everyone on the same page as we move forward with our vision and change lives around the world is priceless.”
The bottom line is that remote work and in-person connection both offer unique benefits to employees and employers alike. The responsibility of leaders in today’s evolving workplace culture is to strike a balance and take advantage of each.
Offering opportunities for valuable in-person interaction and flexibility are equally essential in attracting top talent, boosting employee engagement, increasing retention, and decreasing burnout.
Thanks to meaningful annual or semi-annual in-person events like the one we enjoyed together, it is possible to pair the convenience of remote work with the connectivity of face-to-face interaction.
Frequently asked questions
- What are the benefits of blending remote work and in-person events?
- This combination boosts employee engagement, increases retention, strengthens team connections, enhances collaboration and productivity levels.
- How does face-to-face interaction impact workplace communication?
- Face-to-face communication is significantly more effective due to factors such as eye contact, body language rapport building through physical gestures like high-fives or fist bumps.
- Can annual or semi-annual meetings create lasting impacts on remote teams?
- Cyberbacker's own experience showed deeper connectivity between colleagues resulting from meaningful in-person interactions which impacted morale and productivity for months afterward.
- Does the cost outweigh the benefit when hosting in-person events for remotely working employees?
- While expenses may be considerable, it's important to weigh them against long-term benefits related to increased collaboration, improved team dynamics and shared vision amongst employees.
- How can leaders best strike a balance between remote flexibility & in-person interactions?
- Offer opportunities for regular virtual touchpoints alongside periodic face-to-face gatherings (e.g., annual conferences), taking into consideration each individual team’s unique needs based on their roles & locations.