The future of the business meeting

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

By Michelle van Schouwen

Remember the meeting? Before COVID-19, a group of people might sit – or, where efficiency was particularly prized, stand – in a room and hash out one business matter or another. Maybe a vendor would come to your office and try to sell you something, or a project team would (hopefully) move a process forward.

Well, no more. Remote work and the virus have put an end, for now, to doughnuts, handshakes and tight in-person gatherings. But what will happen when the pandemic fades? Will the in-person meeting regain its place in the business day?

My take is that remote work, continued fear of this and other contagions, the desire for efficiency, financial constraints, and growing environmental consciousness will combine to make the traditional meeting a smaller component of the typical small business day. It won’t disappear, but the current crisis will become an opportunity to “right-size” the traditional meeting.

We have the technologies, from virtual meeting software to simple instant messaging, to render many prolonged in-room gatherings unnecessary. If all the participants are in a single location, sure, they may gather. But in the increasingly common case in which people are working from home, or when they are coming from another organization, the question may become “Why bother?”. Is it worth two hours or a day to transport oneself to visit in person?

Sometimes, admittedly, an in-person meeting just feels better than a remote one. I have trouble imagining sales meetings being as effective over, say, Zoom, as sitting across from the prospect, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that’s simply because the prospect will find it easier to end a virtual meeting sooner, making it clearer that the “need to buy” simply wasn’t there.

The future of conferences

And conferences, a model which has been under stress for years, with tighter budgeting of time and money, will have to offer particular promise to justify being physical rather than virtual. As a small business owner, you probably already eye any fly-in conference carefully, making sure it’s worth your or your employees’ time and your company’s money. My bet is that the conference industry will be working hard to stay relevant in the age of the virtual gathering.

Even though people often enjoy gathering, and may have good reasons to do so, more often the efficiency of a virtual meeting will win out. Small business owners should leverage the opportunity to conduct more meetings online. Further, we will be wise to fully employ their merits. For example, ideally, only one person can speak at a time, and time-wasters such as long personal stories become more clearly awkward onscreen. No one has to travel through rain, snow or traffic, meaning fewer people should be late to arrive. You can reduce costs, and save time. And during flu – or COVID – season, we’ll have less reason to dread these get-togethers. (I used to meet in person with a dozen or more people a week, and always kept hand sanitizer with me. That and keeping my hands away from my face still didn’t protect me from many meeting-incurred colds and flus.)

Another advantage of the in-person meeting becoming rarer is that the very act of HAVING one can be made more special. A meeting can be an occasion, rather than an everyday annoyance. Collaboration, in-person mentoring and brainstorming will be the highlight of the week, rather than one of ten or twenty gatherings in a row. A personal sales meeting can be treated as a real opportunity to create partnership, not just another time-sucking supplicant at the door.

Most of all, you can savor the extra hours you’ve collected. For now. As every small business owner knows, they will fill fast enough.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See Q5  For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc.  of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her new work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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