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Can Zoom Replace In-Person Meetings? Why We Might Still Need the Personal Touch

By Louis Schiavone Jr., Avenu President & Chief Customer Officer

Nearly one year ago, businesses and organizations across the country embarked upon a daring experiment. Faced with a deadly pandemic, strict social distancing regulations and a newly-remote workforce, teams in every industry and field shifted almost overnight to video conferencing technology in order to stay in touch, share information, collaborate and dialogue.

That shift was massive in its impact and scale. Revenues at Zoom alone grew 169% and 355% in the first and second quarter of 2020, while end-user spending on video conferencing technology soared by several billion dollars.

But in spite of the apparent success of our collective shift to digital and online meetings, video conferencing technology might not be a perfect solution. Big business deals, long-term client relationships and even team building need the interpersonal trust and mutual understanding that only in-person meetings can provide. Virtual meetings can’t be a complete substitute for face-to-face interactions.

Anyone who has been in business for a long time, especially in the service business, knows the importance of relationships. Most customers highly value a close, long-term relationship with their business and service partners. In fact, LinkedIn’s 2018 State of Sales report found that trust, the kind that comes from building good relationships, was a better indicator of sales success than return on investment or even product price.

Yet trust-based relationships have typically been built over time through many face-to-face meetings. And with good reason, too. In-person meetings give participants the freedom to spend time getting to know each other both professionally and personally. With today’s tightly scheduled Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings, that same freedom just isn’t possible. Our introductions become more awkward and less natural, and we’re more focused on quickly sharing information than we are on meeting and building relationships with each other.

What’s more, we’re hardwired as human beings to pick up on the subtle conversational nuances of hand gestures, facial expressions, posture and even physical touch like a handshake. Body language is an indispensable part of communication, and so much of a compelling sales pitch boils down to being an engaging presence in the room. But in a Zoom meeting, you can’t even properly make eye contact with the person you’re speaking to.

Now, for many people and business situations, a virtual meeting is probably still enough. A quick team collaboration, project follow-up or personal check-in can all be done quite easily and efficiently in a virtual medium.

The problem is when virtual meetings replace in-person meetings wholesale. Can we really build strong teams from scratch without team members ever meeting face-to-face? Will we be able to forge client relationships that last over Zoom? For many businesses, relationships are more than just a way to seal the deal or get the sale; they are a key part of the value proposition on offer. Are vendors even offering the same service if that service is abstracted from in-person relationships and reduced to a commodity? I don’t have final answers to these questions, but these are the type of questions we have to start asking as we enter the second year of the Zoom and video conferencing revolution.

Our shift to virtual meetings certainly makes a lot of sense in context, and I’m by no means against it. In fact, I’ve enjoyed travelling less over the past year and getting to spend more time at home with my family. And of course, when separated from each other by geography, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other video conferencing technologies are a huge step up from emails, texts and perhaps even traditional phone calls.

But that doesn’t mean they can deliver the same intimacy and connection of a face-to-face meeting. Before we throw in-person meetings out the window, we should reflect on what we might be losing and consider whether meeting face-to-face is worth the extra effort after all.