Getting back on site
Remote Vs Face-to-face meetings
Over the past couple of years, with the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, there's been an inevitable shift towards remote online meetings using a variety of software tools like Teams, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. And although online meetings are better than email, there's no denying the value of face-to-face meetings.
Collaborating online can be restrictive - whether you're communicating via email or teams or zoom call, there are undeniably things you miss out on. While communicating remotely may be convenient, it brings a certain number of challenges.
Ahead of kicking off a meeting, it's natural to have a certain degree of small talk, where people can chat amongst themselves and get acquainted. However, it is usually impossible to have small talk amongst attendees in remote meetings, especially if they are 'meeting' for the first time. Instead, the inclination is to drive straight into the topic, to facilitate the effectiveness of the meeting. However, this lack of camaraderie can impact the individuals' contributions to the meeting due to them not feeling comfortable.
When meeting face-to-face, people can undertake small parallel discussions with one or two people while the main group is also talking. Talking amongst yourselves is obviously impossible to do in a remote environment. The volume for speaking and listening is also the same for everyone, and unless the group is assigned to pre-planned breakout discussion forums, simultaneous talking is impractical.
The natural structure for meetings leans towards broader topics and general discussions around them. However, minor but equally important topics are often not discussed in remote meetings, requiring further discussions either as a group or between specific individuals. The quality of meeting attendees' inputs can also be compromised. It may be challenging to understand the appropriate time to talk without interrupting someone, toning down the quality of everyone's input since it's hard to introduce facts and opinions at the right time.
Body language is an important part of how we communicate. However, with remote meetings, one needs to be more sensitive to written and spoken cues, meaning that you need to use other means for identifying emotions and asking whether people are all on board. Additionally, attendees to online meetings often do not engage their videos and/or go onto mute. Therefore, it can be difficult to guarantee if these attendees are actively participating in the meeting or whether they are engaging in other activities.
Keeping a nice rhythm in meetings can be tricky, but dealing with technical issues simultaneously can make this even more challenging. In addition, any kind of connection loss or lag might significantly break the rhythm and negatively impact the expected results of a meeting.
Meeting face-to-face establishes stronger relationships and demonstrates that you're willing to go the extra mile to get to know someone, builds trust, and shows that you value the relationship. It also enables you and your clients/extended team members to showcase your personality, which is an incredibly important part of any business partnership.
Getting back out there
With the lifting of Covid restrictions (which are hopefully a thing of the past!), Tugela People are finding that some of their clients are welcoming onsite visits again. As a provider, implementation, and support partner of cloud-based, people-centric HR systems, most of our consultancy services are easily undertaken remotely. However, the value of face-to-face meetings, especially at the beginning of a new project, can prove invaluable.
Scott Brander, a Lead Consultant within the Tugela People's Professional Service division, recently attended an onsite meeting with a client that is part of a health foundation trust to undertake a discovery workshop for their upcoming Sage People HCM and Performance implementation project. Scott met with both the Project Officer and the Business Analyst with additional input from other key individuals, including the Head of HR.
Scott said, "It was great to be onsite with the client last week and a welcome visit from both my point of view and theirs. This was the first time I'd travelled with work in over two years, and it made for a nice change from the four walls I've had to experience over that time.
The customer was extremely welcoming and made me feel right at home, and we were able to discuss things in a way that would not be as productive on a Teams call. They found the onsite presence very valuable.
I was able to meet with other relevant contacts within the organisation and build a great rapport with the customer. They also gave me the impression that the onsite visit was more conducive to their way of working. Additionally, we were able to inject some fun into the session with a quick dance taking place at one stage!"
While Scott was travelling down South, our other colleagues, Yasmine Martin (Lead Consultant) and Elena Talavera (HRIS consultant) headed up North to visit another client. They met with the HR team of a customer that provides IT services to run a two-day discovery workshop around streamlining their processes and employee self-service requirements.
Yasmine said, "It was great to be able to meet people in person, not only the clients but also my colleague Elena, whom I had not seen in over two years due to the restrictions of Covid. I was conscious of keeping a physical distance from people, such as not sitting or standing too near to others and, of course, not shaking hands, which for the first time ever actually felt more polite! Also, it brought home to me the different restrictions within the UK - in England, wearing face masks in shops isn't a requirement, but I discovered (the hard way) that in Scotland it is!
In comparison to a remote meeting, which can sometimes be sound only, I enjoyed being able to put a face to a name and reading how people were feeling through their body language - something one misses on a call. Collaboration and communication were made easier with the ability to share information on a screen whilst simultaneously seeing people's faces and their reactions. Additionally, we were able to pull relevant people into the meeting when required, rather than having to try and dial them in or schedule follow-up calls.
Meeting in person promotes informal networking and allows you to chat casually with others and build stronger relationships. You can also learn a great deal about a company's culture from how people dress, how they interact with each other and their sense of humour..being in Scotland for the first time in a while, seeing cans of IRN-BRU on the table did make me smile! "
When asked how the site visit had gone, Elena said, "It was great, but a bit strange to be back on site after being forced to work from home during the pandemic. However, the people we met were very nice and friendly to us. Working at the customer site felt more personal, and it was also good to establish personal relationships during coffee and lunch breaks."
Charlotte Edwards, Project Manager for the Professional Services division of Tugela People said, "There are definite advantages and disadvantages to remote vs onsite meetings. For example, a discovery workshop can mean the difference between four separate sessions via zoom or two days onsite. However, additional considerations such as travel time, expenses, and support for the team need to be taken into account when undertaking site visits.
These can, of course, be outweighed by the intangible benefits of an onsite visit, i.e. it makes such a difference to the client relationship in that it shows your willingness to work with them, especially at the start of a new project. An online call via Zoom or Teams can be good for small topics, but it doesn't give you an insight into the dynamics of the team and their corporate culture. Meeting face-to-face makes it easier to build a rapport with people you are working with, ensures that you have their attention on the topic at hand (without the usual 'office distractions'), and enables interactive discussions using aids such as flip charts."