Virtual Meetings: Will the COVID-19 virus accelerate a trend?

One of the big repercussions of the Coronavirus scare has been to shift most companies into a world where significant numbers of their employees are working from home. Whereas working remotely might have been an occasional thing for many of these workers in the past, now it’s the daily reality.

What’s more, personal visits to customers and attendance at meetings or events have been severely curtailed.

This “new reality” may well be with us for the coming months – not merely weeks as some reporting has indicated. But more fundamentally, what does it mean for the long-term?

I think it’s very possible that we’re entering a new era of how companies work and interact with their customers that’s permanent more than it is temporary. The move towards working remotely had been advancing (slowly) over the years, but COVID-19 is the catalyst that will accelerate the trend.

Over the coming weeks, companies are going to become pretty adept at figuring out how to work successfully without the routine of in-person meetings. Moving even small meetings to virtual-only events is the short-term reality that’s going to turn into a long-term one.

When it comes to client service strategies, these new approaches will gain a secure foothold not just because they’re necessary in the current crisis, but because they’ll prove themselves to work well and to be more cost-efficient than the old ways of doing business. Along the same lines, professional conferences in every sector are being postponed or cancelled – or rolled into online-only events.  This means that “big news” about product launches, market trends and data reporting are going to be communicated in ways that don’t involve a “big meeting.”

Social media and paid media will likely play larger roles in broadcasting the major announcements that are usually reserved for the year’s biggest meeting events. Harnessing techniques like animation, infographics and recorded presentations will happen much more than in the past, in order to turn information that used to be shared “in real life” into compelling and engaging web content.

The same dynamics are in play for formerly in-person sales visits. The “forced isolation” of social distancing will necessitate presentations and product demos being done via online meetings during the coming weeks and months. Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, in-person sales meetings at the customer’s place of business will return – but can we realistically expect that they will go back to the levels that they were before?

Likely not, as companies begin to realize that “we can do this” when it comes to conducting business effectively while communicating remotely. What may be lost in in-person meeting dynamics is more than made up for in the convenience and cost savings that “virtual” sales meetings can provide.

What do you think? Looking back, will we recognize the Coronavirus threat as the catalyst that changed the “business as usual” of how we conduct business meetings?  Or will today’s “new normal” have returned to the “old normal” of life before the pandemic?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

3 thoughts on “Virtual Meetings: Will the COVID-19 virus accelerate a trend?

  1. Today’s “new normal” has actually been my company’s “old normal” for the last 3 years or so — but we’re in the IT industry.

    The software products available today which make virtual meetings possible are light years ahead of what they were just a few years back, but the real catalyst was widespread availability of fiberoptic cable. That development spurred the adoption of live streaming technology which is disrupting the broadcasting and motion picture industries.

    As companies increasingly adopt virtual meetings, whether out of dire necessity or simply to cut travel costs, I can foresee major impacts on travel-related services industries including airlines, hotels, restaurants and conference organizers, all of whom could struggle to recover all the demand they suddenly lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  2. Unknown is how much we will miss human interaction. At a Darwinian level we want to see and hear our colleagues and opposite numbers in person. Subliminally, we want to smell them and their emotional reactions to us. A video screen may not do the trick.

    I live in San Francisco, a convention city. Most of what takes place near the hotels is socializing, the building of trust and shared purpose. Obviously, our economy will now shift, and employees who like to work at home will have more opportunity to do so, saving time and money on commuting and wardrobe. Some will be lonely. And busybodies who follow everybody’s birthdays and weekend activities, attempting to turn the office into a “family”, won’t like it one bit.

    Aldous Huxley predicted in Brave New World that people would one day go to “the feelies”, movies augmented by a sense of touch and smell. Until we manage that technical feat for teleconferencing, there will surely be something slightly unnatural about conducting business in two dimensions, at a distance.

  3. All of the trade shows that we booked for this year are canceled (rightly), at least through the summer. I think the rest will fall, too. It is my hope that some of the ways that we do business will change forever.

    I’m not a fan of trade shows in general. They are an expensive, old-fashioned way to do business and now that we have marketing analytics tools, I can prove they do not meet our expectations for ROI. I hope that a year without trade shows will demonstrate that they are not as “critical” to our businesses as some of the old-school proponents believe they are.

    I used to dread wintertime shows in regular seasons, as I always seemed to come home with a cold. Those fears have grown exponentially with this crisis.

    Be well.

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