If there’s one thing that many businesses have in common, it’s that a lot of them used to love having meetings.
A large portion of these meetings served as useful tools for brainstorming, collaboration and innovation. But we’ve all probably experienced the other type of meetings — those that felt more routine, and perhaps not the most efficient or productive use of time.
In a COVID-19 world, a lot of in-person meetings went away entirely as companies asked employees to work remotely. And now, as these same companies ponder their future work models — whether to stay remote, require all employees to return to an office full time, or a hybrid approach somewhere in the middle — it’s worth taking a closer look at our meeting routines.
Should businesses reinstate in-person meetings that focus on brainstorming, collaboration and innovation? Definitely! Being (safely) face-to-face with colleagues is often the best way to spur big ideas, and it’s hard to capture that in a Zoom call.
At the same time, we probably don’t need to bring back the more routine and procedural in-person meetings. We’ve learned in the past year plus that we often can conduct these types of meetings more efficiently in a virtual format.
Research from the MIT Sloan Management Review supports this notion. As they describe it, “Employees want more in-person interactions with peers for rich qualitative exchanges” and prefer virtual formats for “lean transactional interactions.” In-person brainstorming sessions? Yes, please! In-person expense updates? Not so much.
Mobility teams can support this type of approach if they’re strategic. Where are there opportunities for “rich qualitative exchanges” at your organization? When you’ve identified some, think about how they could become even stronger if they were opened up to more employees from across your organization who aren’t currently invited into the room. It’s quite possible that you’re sitting on some potential short- or long-term assignments that would move your company forward!
I’ve written before about the challenges organizations face in reaching out to a diverse pool of candidates for assignments and relocations, so targeting the most valuable in-person opportunities could be a great way to address that issue and meet important business goals. Zoom meetings aren’t going away — and they make a lot of sense in many cases — but when face-to-face is called for, mobility can add a lot of value.
Despite craving in-person time, most leaders have not put any real thought into how to optimize those interactions differently than in the past. Many leaders are trained to use meeting and in-person time for things like information sharing, project coordination, and decision-making. Just as employees may feel comfortable falling back into old in-person work habits, managers are often happy to return to running meetings with their trusted flip charts and the dynamism of in-person interactions. But this is exactly the wrong strategy. Rather, they should be using virtual collaboration for these kinds of interactions and finding more creative uses for in-person time to spur interactions that generate energy or developmental growth.