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When is a virtual meeting better than in person?

Depends on your goals: Sometimes the inefficiency of an IRL conversation is just what you need.

And when is IRL better than virtual? (Photo by fauxels from Pexels)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink,’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.

One afternoon in spring 2019, I was near DC’s McPherson Square to meet a friend in his office. Turns out we got our wires crossed, and he was at a new coworking space near the Navy Yard, miles away.

We both were on tight schedules, but we hadn’t seen each other in a while and had a couple timely issues to discuss. I texted him: “Wanna just call me?”

After several convoluted attempts to coordinate our schedules for an in-person meeting, we settled our business in 15 minutes on a phone call we could have had weeks before. We laughed about it, as I walked in circles past the McPherson Square food trucks under the early spring sun.

That mishap was so entirely ordinary in 2019. Yet I’ve been thinking about it again lately. I’ve picked up more in-person meetings and attended a few events. My life is still very different during this stage of the pandemic than it was that spring. Optimistically, though, I could imagine packing my schedule with coffee dates and lunches and happy hours and afternoon conference room sessions. The funny thing is that I don’t want that.

For as much as I like people, I’m surprised to say there is so much I appreciate about a return to phone calls. A few years back, it felt impersonal to ask a client or a source to get on a video call — especially if I was just a few miles away. Today I feel a growing confidence in choosing between an in-person or a video conference, or a phone call. Ranking them is silly; they are all different tools with different strengths. Here’s how I’m deciding between them, in the hopes it might help you make a similar decision.

When is an in-person meeting helpful?

  • I want inefficiency. Chit-chat and diversions are far more natural in-person. That’s why so many report collaborative meetings are better when done off screens. If I want to really dig into an issue and let a conversation meander, I want to be off my computer.
  • I want added intimacy. Setting aside the idea of looking at a person’s home office, I think it’s far more personal to look someone in their eyes than through a screen. That’s great for the right reasons.
  • The value is commensurate with the commute. It’s easy to ignore the travel time in between in-person meetings. That hour-long coffee catch up was almost always more like a two-hour interruption to your day, with travel there and travel back included. That may very well be worth it, but it isn’t always.

We have a funny habit of wanting to decide virtual or in-person meetings are “better.” It’s like deciding a hammer or a screwdriver is better than the other. They’re different tools.

I’m quite pleased with the efficiency and professionalism that a video call can offer. I like very much to take a stroll on a phone call as a coworker and I talk out a challenge.

Back in 2019, it felt silly that my friend and I ended up on a phone call even though we were so near each other. Looking back, it was the best way for us to settle what we had to settle. Under very different circumstances, though, I look forward to a long meandering conversation with him. In person.

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Series: How to Work Remotely / Builders

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