Virtual meetings are not an alternative to corporate travel

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A hilarious passage in David Foster Wallace’s popular and lengthy novel Infinite Jest recounts the rise and fall of the video calls. In the novel’s dystopia, after an interval of huge popularity, consumers abandon “videophony” and return to good-old voice-only telephoning for their ‘virtual meetings’ due to the emotional-stress provoked by video calls.

In the novel, Wallace explores how consumers are extremely stressed by the way they must look and behave when they answer the video call. That’s fiction, of course, but in reality, many of us can feel a little bit uncomfortable. Applied to a business setting, virtual meetings might not be our favorite part of the day, yet web conferencing technology is a $4 billion industry. Like them or not, video-conferences and virtual meetings increasingly occupy more time in our agendas.

Virtual meetings are often seen as a cost-effective alternative to corporate travel, a good excuse to reduce travel budget. With countless tools available, many of them being free or very inexpensive, it is often hard to justify spending thousands of dollars sending employees to a meeting abroad. However, conference calls and virtual meetings must face several communication challenges which may easily lead to an ineffective meeting.

Virtual meetings gone wrong

Common reasons why virtual meetings go wrong


Virtual meetings tend to be presentation meetings with one person taking the lead, rather than a discussion. Participants might find it difficult to interrupt and intervene.

Social cues

Even in high-definition video conferences, many social cues will not get through making it difficult to sense the atmosphere in the room. You will miss the social cues that indicate when your audience is interested, bored or lost.

Virtual trust

Consider: Would you close a deal with someone you’ve only seen on your computer screen. While perhaps easier to establish initially, trust in the virtual world is much more fragile than in face-to-face relationships. Plus, in virtual meetings visual communication is limited, if existent at all. Miscommunication is likely, causing friction and mistrust to creep in.

Short attention spans

Nowadays, our attention spans are shorter than ever, but we still tend to schedule one-hour meetings. When we attend a virtual meeting using our computer, after a few minutes listening to the presenter, it is too easy to start multitasking; checking and replying our emails, or working on those documents piling up in our to-do list.

So, when should you hold a virtual meeting?

When you should have a virtual meeting

It goes without saying travel budgets cannot accommodate all the travel or meetings required. The superior effectiveness of face-to-face meeting is indisputable. Still today, in the digital age, corporate travel remains a necessity. For example, travel sends a clear message to your customers: e.g. your business cares enough to travel across the globe to meet them. Therefore, you should hold virtual meetings in addition to in-person meetings to strengthen collaboration and facilitate regular communication.

Think of in-person meetings as ice breakers. If you are kicking off a project, it’s probably a good idea to have a face-to-face meeting first, so participants get to know each other and trust is built. When your team is spread out across different locations, have regular face-to-face meetings to reinvigorate the team and solve any potential disagreements. The emotional investment in in-person engagements will help team building.

Due to the nature of face-to-face meetings, corporate travel will have a higher return on investment than virtual meetings. Should your travel be compromised, think of optimizing spend rather than eliminating travel altogether. Reach out to one or sales representation to find out how you can save up to 20% with Hotelzon.