← All posts

Hybrid Meetings

In-Person vs. Virtual Meetings: Is One Better Than the Other?

Read Time: 17 min
← All resources


No items found.
Table of Contents

In the modern workplace, you face a critical decision when scheduling a meeting: Should it be in person or virtual? As remote work and virtual meeting tools have surged in popularity, this question has become more complex and consequential than ever. The right choice can supercharge collaboration and productivity, while the wrong one can lead to disengagement and miscommunication.

In this article, we'll examine the pros and cons of in-person vs. virtual meetings. Hopefully, this will help you determine which is optimal for your needs.

What Is an In-Person Meeting?

An in-person meeting is a gathering where participants come together in the same physical space. In person, you can discuss ideas, share updates, collaborate on projects, and make decisions.

Unlike virtual meetings conducted over video or phone, in-person meetings allow attendees to interact directly with one another in a shared environment. This physical proximity enables a more natural flow of conversation and helps participants pick up on the subtle nonverbal cues that can be crucial for effective communication.

In-person meetings can take many forms, from small team huddles in a conference room to large-scale conventions in an event hall. They might be formal affairs with structured agendas and presentations or more casual discussions over coffee or lunch.

Regardless of the specific format, the defining feature of an in-person meeting is that all participants are in physical proximity. Everyone can see, hear, and engage with other attendees directly without the mediation of screens or speakers. This kind of organic human interaction can be refreshing and energizing in a world where so much communication happens digitally.

Advantages of Meeting in Person

There are several compelling advantages to in-person meetings:

  • Enhanced communication: In-person meetings allow for more effective communication through body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. This nonverbal communication can provide valuable context and help prevent misunderstandings.

  • Stronger relationships: When you meet face to face, you can build stronger relationships with your colleagues, clients, or partners. The personal connection fostered by physical proximity in relationship-based meetings can increase trust, empathy, and collaboration.

  • Increased engagement: One of the advantages of communicating face-to-face is that it tends to be more engaging. Meeting participants are less likely to multitask or become distracted in such settings. The shared physical space encourages active participation and can lead to more dynamic and productive discussions.

  • Spontaneous interactions: When you're in the same room, there's a greater chance for spontaneous social interactions, side conversations, and impromptu brainstorming sessions. These unplanned moments often lead to creative solutions and innovative ideas.

  • Clearer demonstrations: If your meeting involves product demonstrations, hands-on skills training, or the use of physical materials, an in-person setting is often more effective. Participants can directly interact with the items and receive immediate feedback and guidance.

Disadvantages of Face-to-Face Meetings

However, there are also some notable drawbacks to meeting in person:

  • Higher costs: Between travel expenses, refreshments, printed materials, and more, in-person meetings tend to be pricier than virtual ones. For client meetings or training sessions involving people from multiple locations, these costs can add up quickly.

  • Scheduling challenges: Aligning everyone's schedules and travel plans to meet in person can be a logistical nightmare, especially for larger groups.

  • Limited flexibility: Face-to-face meetings can be less inclusive, as they may exclude team members who cannot attend due to location, mobility issues, or other constraints. This can lead to a lack of diverse perspectives and ideas.

  • Potential for uncertainty: If key contributors can't attend an in-person meeting due to location or mobility constraints, their absence can negatively impact the entire gathering. Last-minute changes or cancellations are also more disruptive.

What Is a Virtual Meeting?

A virtual meeting is a gathering where participants connect and collaborate without being physically present in the same location. You can join the meeting remotely using videoconferencing software, online communication platforms, or phone conferencing systems. These digital tools allow participants to see and hear one another, share their screens and files, and interact in a virtual space.

The defining feature of a virtual meeting is that it takes place entirely online, with no physical venue. This means you can log in from anywhere worldwide as long as you have a reliable internet connection.

You can organize virtual meetings for various purposes, from quick status updates to lengthy strategic planning workshops. Many virtual meeting platforms offer features like screen sharing, virtual whiteboards, breakout rooms, and instant polls to facilitate interactive collaboration and keep attendees engaged. Virtual meetings are often better suited for narrowly defined, relatively straightforward tasks, making them an efficient choice for task-based meetings.

Advantages of Online Meetings

Here are some key benefits of virtual meetings:

  • Increased accessibility: With virtual meetings, geography is no longer a barrier. You can loop in team members, clients, and other stakeholders worldwide.

  • Time and cost savings: Hosting effective virtual meetings eliminates travel time and reduces transportation, lodging, and meals costs. You can reinvest these savings into other areas of your business.

  • Improved efficiency: Features like collaborative meeting notes, instant file sharing, and virtual whiteboards can make online meetings highly productive. Many virtual meeting platforms also include recording capabilities to reference the discussion later.

  • Enhanced flexibility: Virtual meetings allow for more agile, impromptu collaboration. If an urgent issue arises, you can quickly gather the relevant people online without aligning their schedules and locations for an in-person meeting.

Disadvantages of Meeting in Virtual Settings

However, virtual meetings are not the ultimate solution. Despite the strong pros of virtual meetings, they also come with some challenges and limitations:

  • Reduced personal connection: Establishing deep interpersonal bonds through a screen is harder. Virtual meetings can sometimes feel impersonal or monotonous, with fewer opportunities for team building and informal idea sharing.

  • Technical difficulties: Frozen video feeds, echoing audio, and dropped calls are common. The technical issues that sometimes plague virtual meetings can be maddening and distracting. Even minor glitches can impede the flow of the discussion.

  • Digital distractions: When participating in virtual meetings from home or in a busy office, people may be more tempted to multitask or let their attention drift. It's easier to accidentally zone out when you're not sharing the same physical space.

  • Zoom fatigue: The excessive close-up eye contact, increased cognitive demands, and lack of mobility in virtual meetings can be mentally and physically draining. Too many back-to-back video calls can lead to burnout.

How to Choose Between These 2 Types of Meetings

Both virtual and in-person meetings have their strengths and drawbacks. So when should you opt for one over the other? Here are some key factors to consider.

Define the Objective of Your Meeting

The first step in choosing between in-person and virtual meetings is to define the objective of your gathering clearly. What do you hope to achieve? Is it a brainstorming session, a project kickoff, a status update, or a team-building activity? Different types of meetings may lend themselves better to one format or the other.

For example, suppose your goal is to foster a sense of camaraderie and build stronger relationships among team members. In that case, an in-person meeting may be more effective. The personal interactions and shared experiences of a face-to-face gathering can help create a sense of unity and trust.

On the other hand, if your objective is to share information or provide updates on a project, a virtual meeting may be sufficient. The focus on the task at hand and the ability to share screens and documents can make online team meetings an efficient choice for these types of discussions.

Evaluate the Communication Tools Available

If you're leaning toward a virtual meeting, assess whether you have the right communication tools to support a productive discussion. Glitchy, hard-to-use virtual meeting platforms can tank engagement.

Look for user-friendly tools that integrate with your existing workflows and have features like collaborative meeting note-taking.

A powerful platform like Scoop can enable effortless planning for great in-office days from your calendar. Whether you work remotely or in a hybrid environment, Scoop allows you to manage your meetings and your team's shifting schedules easily.

Examine the Complexity of the Topic to Be Discussed

For nuanced topics that require extensive discussions and debates, in-person meetings are often optimal. Being face-to-face can make it easier to work through complex issues, as you can read body language, maintain your focus, and extend the conversation if needed.

Virtual meetings are better suited for narrowly defined, relatively straightforward topics. If you just need a quick sync or progress check, gathering online can keep things concise and on track.

Consider Inclusivity and Your Team Members' Locations

You'll also want to consider inclusivity and accessibility when choosing your meeting format. If you have team members who work remotely or face challenges attending in person, defaulting to a virtual format can help ensure everyone's voice is heard. Creating an inclusive environment where all feel welcome and able to contribute is paramount.

That said if most of your team is co-located and craving face time, in-person gatherings can provide a much-needed dose of human connection. You might also consider hosting hybrid meetings with a mix of in-person and virtual attendees to get the best of both worlds.

Key Takeaway

Deciding between an in-person vs. a virtual meeting requires you to carefully weigh your team's goals, needs, and constraints. In-person meetings are ideal for relationship building, complex problem-solving, and minimizing technical disruptions. Virtual gatherings are optimal for task-focused collaboration, flexible scheduling, and including dispersed participants. Many teams succeed with a combination of in-person and virtual meetings at strategic times.

Related Resources

Hybrid Meetings

A Guide to Meeting-Scheduling Etiquette for Hybrid and Distributed Teams

Explore the significance of adhering to meeting-scheduling norms within hybrid and distributed teams, alongside six key pointers for orchestrating productive meetings.
Culture & Employee Engagement

How To Improve Poor Communication in the Workplace

Explore the repercussions of inadequate workplace communication and its impact on teams. Discover five strategies to enhance team communication and boost productivity.

Employee Productivity vs. Hours Worked: Which One Matters the Most?

Explore the relationship between employee productivity and hours invested. Discover the pros and cons of monitoring both working hours and task completion.