FacesNumerous telecommunications methods are available to everyday users of the World Wide Web: emails and instant messaging, conference calls and video conferencing, web casts and web conferencing, video interviewing and video conferencing — wait, I said that already! As you can see, the list goes on and on, and with the abundance of technology that allows us to telecast ourselves into offices thousands of miles away, doing business from a distance has become easier, faster, and — most importantly — cheaper.

It’s basic economics: the supply of telecommunications technology has increased, which has caused the price of these services to decrease. In fact, these types of Web-based communication services are now basically “free” and seen as requirements by many consumers.

However, despite the increase in telecommunications technology available to businesses, the rate of domestic business travel has steadily increased, and it’s expected to continue. The economic downturn in 2008 caused business travel to plummet from 461.1 million trips to 434.3 million trips in 2009.  Since 2009, business travel increased by only 2 percent in 2013, but it’s projected to increase by another 6 percent by 2017. These percentage increases seem minute, but they suggest that telecommuting technology isn’t enough to put business travel on hold, which brings me to the importance of face-to-face meetings. No, not face-to-face via Skype or a Google Hangout. We’re talking IRL (that is, in real life).

The Current State of IRL Meetings

Meeting IRL, face-to-face, whatever you want to call it, is beneficial to your business for numerous reasons. Business professionals surveyed in this infographic from CT Business Travel and NeoMam Studios seem to agree upon the importance of meeting face-to-face:

  • 87 percent of professionals believe face-to-face meetings are essential for sealing a business deal.
  • 95 percent of professionals believe face-to-face meetings are key to successful business relationships.
  • 47 percent say they have lost a contract or client because they didn’t meet them face-to face enough.

However, 48 percent of business owners admit to spending less time meeting clients in person compared to five years ago. Go ahead and blame the economy for this one, but whatever you do, do not blame the millennials. In fact, millennials are all for meeting face-to-face, despite what you may have heard: 80 percent of millennials reported their preference for meeting face-to-face. This digital age, often scolded for relying a little too heavily on technology, isn’t as opposed to face-to-face communication as you may think.

The Current State of Virtual Meetings

Telecommuting technology is designed for those working remotely to feel as if they are right there in the office. Some of the most popular technologies are actually being issued by employers to help their workforce work remotely more effectively. A recent PGi survey found that:

  • 91 percent of employees have been issued company laptops by employers;
  • 76 percent of employees have been granted VPN (Virtual Private Network) access to company data by employers;
  • 75 percent of employees have access to web conferencing tools;
  • and 62 percent of employees have been issued cellphones/smartphones by employers.

These numbers show just how much telecommuting is taking over the workforce, and it’s not just for remote workers. These Web-conferencing tools are for in-office workers too, and they’re allowing companies to conduct business with organizations hundreds and thousands of miles away without ever meeting!

With so many obvious advantages, like saving time and traveling costs, virtual meetings are starting to seem like a replacement for IRL meetings. However, not everyone agrees:

“Asking if virtual meetings will replace live meetings is like asking if singles’ chat rooms will replace real dating. Human face-to-face interaction is, and will continue to be, the most effective form of communication.” – Spencer Jarrett, InVision Communications

Spencer has good reason to highlight the necessary face-to-face (F2F) interaction we need in communication, especially when virtual meetings don’t require the attention and interaction like F2F meetings do. In fact, 69 percent of people admit to browsing social media during audio-only conference calls. Another huge issue with telecommunicating is not being able to decipher non-verbal cues when emails are used: 60 percent of people regularly misread the tone of the message when communicating via email or phone.

Is Meeting IRL Better than Meeting Virtually? 

Both are viable methods of communication for different reasons. Virtual meetings should be used to relay information quickly and casually catch up with business partners, clients, and other employees. IRL meetings are necessary because virtual meetings can’t substitute the human contact necessary for making and sustaining strong business relationships.

“While virtual meetings are becoming more realistic, they can never quite substitute meeting someone in the flesh.” – CT Business Travel

Meeting someone in the flesh gives you an apparent advantage, especially when making a first impression. It’s actually a scientific fact: face-to-face meetings leave people with a better chance of forming a positive impression because of both body language and verbal language. Here’s how the research breaks down:

“The amygdala and posterior cingular cortex combine to deduce a person’s character. It does so by taking information from the brain’s memory banks and decoding the social nuances it sees.”– CT Business Travel.

Eye contact, touch, head nodding, forceful and open gestures, vocal tones, fluency of speech, and pitch variation are all crucial components in the persuasiveness of a person, according to researchers.  “Though improved video communication can show these behaviors to an extent, the nuances of body language are still hard to gauge when you can only see a cropped image of a person,” says the infographic from CT Business Travel and NeoMam Studios.

Do you prefer to meet IRL or virtually? For what reasons do you prefer one over the other? Please share in the comments.



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