During the last ten years, the number of virtual meetings has soared. 70% of professionals now work remotely at least one day a week.
Alongside the remote working revolution, virtual meetings have evolved into a choice of VOIP (Voice over IP) telephony services like Skype, teleconferencing and AI-driven alternatives.
Benefits and challenges
The trend to virtual meetings has delivered substantial benefits to employers and employees alike. U.S. research has found that companies save $2,000 per year per virtual employee, enjoy greater productivity and higher employee retention rates.
Specifically, adopters reduce the cost and environmental impact of meetings-related travel. Between 8 – 10% of global carbon emissions come from business travel, and a third of which is meetings-related.
Virtual meetings also help to tackle presenteeism - employees being present at work when they’re disengaged or unwell. 86% of UK businesses experienced presenteeism in their organisation during 2017, up from 26% in 2010.
A virtual culture can enhance employees’ work/life balance and there is evidence that organisations with a virtual team culture are more attractive to potential recruits.
Virtual vs face-to-face
Inevitably, there are challenges too. Reducing face-to-face interaction can affect team cohesion; team priorities and goals can get lost in virtual environments, and (technology glitches not withstanding) cultural or language issues can give rise to misunderstandings.
Does this spell the end for face-to-face meetings? Of course not. Most event marketers believe that face to face events are their most effective marketing channel, are spending more and holding more live events.
However it’s a different story for the internal meeting, 97% of which are attended by five delegates or less. Traditional thinking that attendees’ attention is best held by going off-site is being overtaken by a realisation of the true impact of meetings related travel on employee productivity, carbon emissions and company profitability.
True impact of travel
Every meeting conducted virtually save attendees’ time and employers’ money. The scale of savings increases depending on the location of the meeting, where delegates are travelling from and how they travel.
Replacing the need for a delegates to travel from Manchester to London with a video conference saves £154 in rail fare and over eight hours of travel time.
Over the course of a year, switching from face-to-face to virtual can generate significant savings that could be re-invested in virtual and in-house technology. The table below shows two real-life examples of how those costs build up – and the scale of potential savings to be gained.
Switching to rail has a big impact on costs, CO2 emissions and employees’ wellbeing. By getting business travelers out of their cars and onto trains for regular journeys, a company can reduce its emissions by 20kg. Tiredness, road delays and loss of productivity also impact employee wellbeing.
Taken ‘in the round’, a typical journey between London and Leeds takes three and a half hours by road and generates 48kg in emissions. The same journey by rail takes an hour less and generates 14kg emissions.
Challenging the status quo
So how does an organisation go about creating a culture in which virtual meetings are considered as part of the meeting planning process to avoid face-to-face being the default.
The key lies in employers empowering staff to push back against un-necessary meetings and to ask “why is this meeting not being held virtually?”
This requires employers to foster environments in which employees feel able to challenge the status quo. In a virtual meetings culture, employees still need to have opportunities to meet and bond; organisations must over-communicate to keep everyone on track with objectives and messaging, find ways to connect with employees on a personal level and promote work/life balance.
To understand the true impact of virtual meetings, employers need to monitor mileage claims, and understand how much of their employees’ time is spent travelling.
Once quantified, virtual meetings have to become a core value of the organisation if employees are to buy into virtual. With 60% of one-day meetings being for internal purposes the scope for change, and the benefits to be derived, make the creation of a virtual culture a compelling proposition.
In an age of technology, virtual meetings won’t (and shouldn’t) replace the face to face meeting but it should be one of the options to be considered when planning how and where your meeting takes place.
If you’re looking for support with your meetings and events, or just want a chat about what you can do differently, speak to a member of our team.
 Climate Change Group
 IPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work survey.
 Event Marketing 2018 – Benchmarks and Trends
 CTE research based on 29 clients, January to December 2018