Why business meetings are (and will always be) essential

The news that the Covid-19 pandemic had escalated again, leading to a second UK lockdown on 5th November, was a bitter blow for the economy.

While business-owners understand and respect the need for non-essential premises to close, with employees working from home where possible, the situation is far from ideal.

As the nation pulls together, everyone is hoping the new lockdown will make a difference, enabling the government to relax the restrictions as planned on 2nd December.

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In the meantime, employees have largely returned to working from home and video conferencing. However, business analysts have determined we’re not going to be working this way forever. In fact, the general consensus is business meetings in person are and always will be essential.

Why are business meetings essential?

In recent months, we have been forced to change our working practices in many ways. Despite the challenging times, some people started to secretly enjoy working from home: exchanging work attire for jogging pants, while sitting in the comfort of their lounge!

However, don’t believe the hype about home working. While video-conferencing platform Zoom has seen its number of users increase by more than 350% during the pandemic, chatting via a computer screen can never replace the effectiveness of an in-person meeting.

According to interviews with office workers during the pandemic, the novelty of working from home and Zoom meetings has begun to wear off. Comments included, “I miss the office – my company is suffering from not having one.”

“We have no culture,” and, “We rarely see each other as a group,” were also general feelings, as was, “We’re not really a team and we lack social connections and bonding.”

Some analysts have said working from home increases productivity and believe the face-to-face workplace will fade into history as this becomes the “new normal”. On the contrary, don’t shutter up your offices just yet. This trend will ultimately go in another direction when people realise business meetings face-to-face will always be essential.

How often should teams meet?

Businesses run in different ways, so a business that has a meeting only once a month can be just as efficient as a business that has a meeting weekly. The important thing to note is that meetings need to be held in person on a regular basis to keep the team bonded, while fostering company culture and encouraging collaboration.

We’re getting by with virtual meetings, but they can never replace actual meetings in a room with colleagues, clients, shareholders, contractors and any other relevant parties. While individual business goals differ, depending on the size and nature of the company, we all have one aim – to get back to our peak.

In 2020, the UK has had not only the Covid-19 pandemic to contend with, but also Brexit and leaving the European Union. There’s a need to get back on the road to success, locally, nationally and on the global stage. Events and meetings held across the UK will play a pivotal role in achieving this goal.

The way forward

We need to increase our strength as a nation with strong cultural and economic traditions. The mood is changing to recognise that when employees are able to simply roam free, loosely connected via virtual meetings, some may lose sight of the company’s mission and culture. As a result, the business’s value can suffer.

Aside from the cultural value of meetings for individual companies, the conference and meetings industry provides a valuable contribution to the UK economy. In 2018, 1.48 million meetings and conferences across the UK attracted a total of 95.3 million delegates and generated £18.3 billion for the economy.

According to the UK Events Report 2020, compiled by the Business Visits and Events Partnership, conferences, events and meetings shape a company’s identity, encourage creative enterprise, stimulate innovation and spark positive social impact. This in turn creates a stronger sense of community.

As a result of the pandemic, major event and conference organisers in the UK have reported a dramatic drop in business. In fact, by the start of September, only 10% of the usual events were being booked. An increase in socially distanced meetings, with safe operating practices, meant the industry was beginning to recover.

Unfortunately, health chiefs had anticipated a second peak of Covid-19 as winter approached, so the latest lockdown inevitably pulled the rug from under the industry again. Now, companies are looking ahead to a time when they can get back on track and commit to in-person events again. Everyone has a new-found zest to succeed!

What do the industry giants think?

While a number of big companies have gradually introduced more remote working policies over the past decade, suddenly being forced to have almost everyone working from home has led to managers and employees missing the days of in-person meetings – sometimes, we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella recently said in an interview that we shouldn’t “over-celebrate” the perceived productivity gains from remote working. He admitted he missed the feeling of walking into a physical meeting and being able to talk to the person sitting next to him, as it was a chance to connect. He also missed the “two minutes before and after” the meeting – a time when delegates typically had a chance to network and communicate with each other on an informal level.

The pandemic has actually made some bigger companies re-think their work-from-home practices, with the aim of getting more employees back into the office to talk face-to-face. They believe the cost of keeping people away from each other is too big a price to pay in terms of communication, collaboration and bonding. A popular view at the moment is that people need human contact to get more things done. They need real, live, in-person human contact, instead of seeing just a face on a laptop.

While businesses aren’t totally discounting having a work-from-home policy, the pandemic has made people realise this must be combined with face-to-face business meetings. Neither being 100% office-based or 100% home-based works on its own.

Some managers believe a team where everyone’s completely virtual isn’t a team and technology alone can never replace human contact.

&Meetings is looking ahead to offering our meeting rooms in future, when the pandemic abates, and the lockdown situation has been relaxed. Make your future booking online and prepare for brighter times ahead. We’re a great nation – together, we can get the UK back on its feet.

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