Virtual Is Not the Same as In Person

Virtual vs. In-Person Meetings: Virtual Is Not the Same as In Person

Written By Dick Massimilian


Everyone’s now talking about how, going forward, people will be working from home, that going into the office is passé and that from now on we will all be on Zoom accomplishing all that we did when we convened in our offices.

I don’t believe it.

The Limitation of Virtual Meetings

When comparing virtual vs. in-person meetings, it’s important to consider the principal limitation of virtual meetings. But first, let’s discuss instances in which videoconferencing works.

Zoom (or videoconferencing in general) is great. You get people together virtually. You can see each other (sort of, depending on the number of attendees). Absent technology glitches, which are minimizable, you can have an effective virtual meeting on Zoom. Here’s the rub:

Zoom is great for transactions. Existing teams of people who have been together for a while can get a lot done. For them, Zoom works. But you can’t build authentic relationships via videoconference. Therein lies the limitation of videoconferences.

The Value of In-Person Meetings

Every great accomplishment: in sports, in business, in the performing arts, is built on a bedrock foundation of powerful relationships. You can take a group of talented athletes, put the same uniform on them, call them a team and have them play together. (It’s done all the time.) They will probably do fine if they are talented enough. But they will never be great.

Greatness requires a deep, background relatedness. It requires that people are viscerally aligned, trust each other and, as the expression goes, have each other’s backs. Team members who achieve greatness together look each other in the eye, truly see each other and meet their inevitable obstacles secure in the knowledge that they are not facing their challenges alone.

In the debate of virtual vs. in-person meetings, it all boils down to one thing: there is no way to build deep relationships via videoconference. You can’t truly get the measure of someone via screen shot. Brain science tells us that emotions are contagious. When positive emotions are contagious, 1 + 1 = 3, and miracles happen. That doesn’t occur without physical proximity. At the epicenter of every truly great endeavor is invariably a team of people who spend time together.

For business as usual, a “new normal” will suffice. For those who seek greatness, only in-person, legacy normal will do.