Face-to-face vs virtual get-togethers: which one should you choose and when?

How to get the most out of people in a modern world of work

At Let’s Talk Talent (LTT), we’ve noticed that demand for face-to-face (F2F) events such as team away days, workshops, and formal development programmes has increased considerably over the past few months. This represents a clear shift from previous years, when most activities were taking place in a remote capacity. So, what’s driving this change? 

“Organisations and leaders are realising that the human connection piece is missing,” says Catherine Wilson, Senior Associate at LTT. “There’s something to be said about getting together, and people are realising connections won’t just happen by osmosis,” she adds.

Should this mean more in-person, less virtual for businesses? Or changes in the current working practices you’ve worked so hard to define over the past years? What’s the right mix, and how can you get the most bang for your buck? 

Here is the LTT team’s take on how to best use virtual and face-to-face meetings to generate motivation and engagement.  

Why is the in-person vs remote working ratio being reviewed? 

The implementation of hybrid working practices was initially driven by necessity. The focus was on functional details such as how many days staff should spend in the office, the processes enabling this new hybrid reality, etc. The guidelines were established and applied to our day-to-day working reality. 

Now that they have a good couple of years under their belts, many organisations are uncovering some new data. For example, businesses realised that some team members no longer cross paths. Engagement levels are lower, and managing virtual teams has gotten harder for leaders. 

Therefore, we believe that the focus has now shifted from implementation to optimisation, and creating cohesive teams in a hybrid world has become a key consideration. So, how can you strike the right balance? “Before selecting one or the other, ask yourself: what do you want the output to be?” advises Craig Howell, Sales and Operations Director at LTT. 

When should you use face-to-face 

The main purpose of F2F activities is to build connections and allow people to come together around a common purpose. As mentioned, leaders are realising that team development will not happen by magic over a screen: they need to proactively create opportunities for team bonding. 

“It’s about creating a strong team,” states Jo Taylor, MD at LTT. “Strategy days, away days, or training are a great way to do this.” Anything that requires a psychologically safe environment is best done in person as this format enables people to be more honest, and facilitators can pick up on cues and clues which might otherwise get lost online,” she adds. 

There are also a few factors to consider. If possible, make it a one-off, special event. When requiring your entire team to come in, they have to see the purpose of it. Otherwise, this format will lose some of its effectiveness. Research still shows that people would prefer to leave an organisation rather than change their working patterns, so on-site meetings should be used as and when needed. 

When to use remote working

Virtual working is still predominant. According to research, 87% of employees want to work remotely most of the time. So when it comes to planning your next meeting, ask yourself: do you just want to run something past the group or to get a yes or no answer? If so, doing it online is the way to go. 

However, as remote working remains the norm, managers have to work much harder to create an environment where people feel they can still have these watercooler moments. And as we know, managers are crucial when it comes to supporting the right culture. They need to encourage team bonding, foster networking opportunities and manage conflict, whether their teams are mostly remote or in the office.  

Have a look at the complete list of tools & techniques for team development for some tips on how to achieve this. 

Aside from being a clear employee preference, remote working has a few additional advantages. It ensures staff can fully focus on the content presented without any distractions, and that your message is delivered in a consistent way across the board, without any proximity bias. It is cost-effective, and a great way to bring in introverts as it is easier to make sure all voices are heard. 

“It’s not the perfect replacement for being in the same room together, though,” cautions Jo. “Managers can’t read body language to determine how their message is received, and staff can’t feed off each other’s energy.” Therefore, don’t just use it as your default meeting setting. 

Do introverts and extraverts have a preference for virtual or in-person meetings? 

There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts and extroverts’ traits. It’s worth remembering that the pandemic had a significant impact on both, so it’s all about balance, and not putting people in boxes. All of us need to interact with each other, and organisations have to find ways to create connections for all. 

Our top tips to ensure everyone is comfortable during your event? Make sure that you cater for both and look at the individuals (as well as the collective) that make up your team. If you are organising an away day or an off-site event, schedule quiet times in between activities, or ensure there is an isolated area where people can go to process information. Have a look at this article for more tips on how to organise a successful away day.

LTT’s take on the remote vs in-person debate 

At LTT, we don’t believe that one is better than the other. Both modes work in unison. Just ask yourself: what is the office for? Request feedback from your employees. Actively listen to your staff and trust them to do what’s right for them, and for the business. 

We’ve also noticed that the intergenerational reality does influence the ratio of remote vs in-person working. There are currently up to five generations in the workplace at any given time, each with their own preferences, lifestyles and level of familiarity with technology. When determining what’s best for your team, make sure you factor this in. 

Why both face-to-face and virtual working are needed 

Each situation is unique, and every meeting has a different agenda. If you need speed and expediency, go for the virtual option. If you need to generate ideas, to increase energy levels or to generate connections, face-to-face is the way to go. Overall, remember that one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. There are benefits and disadvantages to both; it’s just about finding the right balance for your people, and your business.  

Whichever working mode you end up going for, keep looking for ways to improve communication and encourage team bonding. While both introverts and extraverts are now used to operating from behind a screen, we still all need to feel connected to our colleagues. This just needs to be encouraged in a much more proactive way so your people can bond and find energy and motivation within their work community. 

Is your team new? Have they not been together in the same place for a while? Or do you need to find your common purpose and think an away day might help? Don’t hesitate to book a call with us, or to visit our bespoke team building away days and strategy days service page. Alternatively, you can register for our Managing a virtual team webinar or Hybrid working BootCamp. 

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