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In-person meetings vs virtual: How to choose for your hybrid team
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In-person meetings vs virtual: How to choose for your hybrid team

Knowing when to pick in-person meetings vs virtual is the key to more productive teamwork. Here are the pros and cons of each to help you choose.

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The word bazaar, meaning marketplace, dates back several centuries to ancient Persia.* The first bazaars emerged as central hubs for trade. They connected different regions, allowing people to come together and exchange goods, services, and knowledge.

Modern meetings are like ancient bazaars in some ways. Both bring people together to share ideas, work together, and build connections. But which is better, an in-person meeting or a virtual one? 

On the one hand, in-person meetings can be more spontaneous and make it easier for people to communicate through body language and facial expressions. But, on the other, virtual meetings offer more flexibility and suit a range of communication styles. 

Truth is, both have their pros and cons. That means, as the leader of a highly collaborative team, you need to know when to pick one over the other – and which platform to invest in.  

In this piece, we’ll explore the assumption that in-person meetings are more effective than online ones. We’ll also look at the benefits and challenges of in-person meetings vs virtual and discuss how using a collaborative digital workspace like Switchboard bridges the gap between the two by allowing you to run effective hybrid meetings. All while enabling the human connection and engagement you when everyone’s working side by side.

Want the flexibility of hybrid working without compromising on productivity?
Switchboard brings your teams and tools together to give you the best of both worlds—the benefits of an in-person meeting in a virtual setting.
Sign up for free

Are in-person meetings more effective?

Short answer? It depends. 

Even today, years after the pandemic made hybrid and remote work part of the norm for many professionals, 60% of managers worry that workers are less productive in online meetings. 

But in reality, virtual meetings and in-person meetings can both be effective—it just depends on the situation. That’s because where we meet isn’t the only factor that impacts meeting effectiveness. It also comes down to things like the goal of the meeting, its structure, and number of participants.

In a recent survey, Dropbox found that certain activities were more successful in person while others were best performed online. For example, Dropbox’s own teams prefer to brainstorm and strategize in person but create, review, write, and code virtually. 

Slack’s 2023 State of Work report confirms this. Forty-six percent of respondents are more productive when meeting physically for community building, 45% for brainstorming, and 39% for team decision-making. Otherwise, they work better remotely. 

The bottom line is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each format and decide what works best for your particular situation.

How in-person meetings stack up vs virtual meetings

So how do in-person and virtual meetings compare? Here’s a visual overview of each format’s challenges and benefits. We’ll get into a more in-depth walkthrough below!

in-person meetings vs virtual meetings comparison chart

1. In-person meetings 

In-person meetings definitely have their perks. There's just something special about being in the same room and feeling that human connection. But it’s not always possible to be together in the same space. In fact, a Buffer survey found that 62% of respondents work directly with immediate team members who are spread out across time zones. 

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of in-person meetings to help you decide when to get together and when to hop on a video call instead. 

1. Pros

Here are some ways in-person meetings can help your teams:

  • Fewer distractions. In a dedicated meeting space, it’s easier to tune in to what others are saying without being interrupted by emails, notifications, or family members in the other room. In online meetings, managers need to actively promote virtual meeting etiquette, encourage participants to limit distractions, and advise against multitasking.
  • Easier to read body language and facial expressions. Being in the same physical space lets you pick up on non-verbal cues and gestures better. This makes it easier to communicate with others, understand their points, and connect on a deeper level. It also helps team members empathize and work with each other more effectively. For example, you can quickly tell if people are confused by their facial expressions and step in to answer their questions.
  • Aids relationship-building. There are more opportunities for spontaneous interactions and informal chats before or after an in-person meeting. This helps team members get to know each other better, build stronger bonds, and get on the same page. For example, let’s say your designers are getting ready to meet with some clients. If your senior designer needs to clarify something with a team member, they can just pull them to the side and ask their question. In virtual meetings, people need to be more intentional about creating those chance encounters.   

2. Cons

Here are some of the challenges of in-person meetings:

  • Everyone needs to be in the same place. Having to be there physically can make it harder for everyone to join every meeting. Sometimes, there are logistical challenges that can limit flexibility, increase travel costs, and make meetings less inclusive. For example, if an employee needs to pick up their children from daycare right before the meeting, they won’t be able to make the commute to the office and be on time. That means the entire team will lose out on their valuable input and help.
  • Potentially time-consuming. If you have to attend meetings in person, you need to factor in the time it takes you to get to and from the meeting. When you have back-to-back physical meetings it can be difficult to move from room to room fast enough to be on time for each meeting.
  • Harder to record. In-person meetings happen live and are rarely recorded and stored for participants to review later. This means that if you don’t have an active note-taker, it can be difficult to keep a historical record of conversations for people who couldn’t attend or work asynchronously. It also makes it harder to follow up on what you discussed during the call. 

2. Virtual meetings 

Seventy-seven percent (77%) of respondents to the Slack survey said they’re more productive when their immediate team is in the office at the same time as them. However, over half said that their team is spread across different locations. That means they have to find other ways to coordinate and work together. That’s where virtual face-to-face meetings come into play. 

1. Pros

Here’s how online meetings can benefit your company:

  • Offer more flexibility. Meeting virtually means your teams can choose to hop on a call from anywhere. They don’t have to commute, so they have more say in where they live. Flexibility is the favorite benefit of remote work for 67% of workers and makes you more competitive as an employer. It also helps you create happier teams who are more likely to stay at your company long-term.
  • Can be shorter and easier to keep on track. With fewer distractions and interruptions, it’s easier to stay focused and keep to a structured meeting agenda. Functions like in-app messaging and mute buttons also help prevent cross-talk and make the conversation flow smoothly. 
  • Suit a range of communication styles. With virtual meeting platforms, you can communicate both verbally and in written form. Between audio, video, and messaging, participants have more opportunities to express themselves and get their points across. Plus, not everyone’s comfortable with speaking up all the time. Being able to communicate through chat, polls, or sticky notes gives quieter individuals a chance to contribute more.
  • Can be recorded for better knowledge-sharing. Almost every virtual meeting platform lets you easily record your call and store it for future reference. This makes it easier to work asynchronously, keep team members in the loop, and avoid losing important information.
More information: Check out our guide to virtual meeting best practices for more tips on how to improve your calls.

2. Cons

Here are some challenges of online meetings and how to address them: 

  • Can be harder to stay focused. When you work at home you have to balance both your work and home responsibilities. This means you’re not only working but maybe also caring for others, making lunch, cleaning up the dishes, listening to your neighbor's music, and watering the plants. It’s only normal that virtual meetings are also affected by distractions—77% of people who feel less productive at home believe it’s due to having more distractions.
  • Meetings can be one-sided and unengaging. Virtual meetings can often feel one-sided when only one person can share their screen and lead the conversation. To make your online meetings more engaging, use software that encourages a multiplayer experience where every participant can get involved and contribute to the discussion.
  • Trickier to spot warning signs of remote work burnout and “Zoom fatigue.” It’s easier to understand how your team is feeling when you can see them in person. But you might easily miss those signs on video. To address that, start your video calls with a quick temperature check to gauge how your people are feeling. You can use your virtual meeting tool's polling feature to do a quick check-in to see how everyone’s feeling.
  • Harder to brainstorm without the right tools. During in-person meetings, you can have a whiteboard, sticky notes, or other collaborative tools like a brainstorming wall to make ideation easier. To work together, generate new ideas, and explore solutions virtually, you’d need visual collaboration tools and virtual office software to bring them together.
Pro tip: Switchboard is a digital workspace and online collaboration tool where your team can work together inside persistent virtual rooms. Bring all your browser-based apps with you and collaborate as if you were in the same room—but with all the benefits of being hybrid. 
You can use Switchboard’s built-in whiteboard–or other whiteboard apps like FigJam–sticky notes, polls, and anything else you need for a better collaborative working session.
A screenshot of four team members in a Switchboard room, working together on documents and browsers.
Switchboard gives you a dedicated online workspace where you can bring together your people and favorite tools to upgrade your online meeting experience. Source: Switchboard

How Switchboard bridges the gap between in-person and virtual meetings

According to the Slack study, the workers who are more productive today than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic are those that are better connected with their teams and use more collaboration tools. The trick is to integrate those tools into a single platform to save your teams from constantly switching between dashboards. 

Switchboard’s collaborative digital workspace does just that. It recreates the feeling of being in a room together with all the resources you need. Your people communicate in real time with video, audio, and chat—and work together on a wide range of documents and apps inside a permanent virtual room—without having to share their screens.

Here’s how Switchboard helps you bridge the gap between online and in-person work:

  • Saves all your work. Switchboard’s persistent rooms save your progress whether someone’s in the room or not. It also lets you easily record your call and keep the recording in the same room so everyone knows where to find it. Let’s say you’ve created a dedicated room for sprint planning. All your notes, feedback, previous recordings, and project management tools will stay there till the next session, so you can pick up where you left off.
  • Multiplayer experience and side-by-side working. Switchboard rooms let everyone interact and work on the browser-based files, media, and browser-based apps in the room. You don’t need a host to enter the space and give you access. Just jump in the room and start working together. This makes real-time and async teamwork way more productive.
  • More spontaneous interactions. One of the challenges of virtual meetings is that it’s harder to build relationships when you’re all squares on a screen. Switchboard makes it easier to connect to your teams by letting you see who’s online in your shared workspace so you can ping them or jump into impromptu 1:1s. You can also create a dedicated water cooler or games room for casual chats, activities, and spontaneous interactions. No meeting links or invites needed.
A screenshot of five team members chatting in a Switchboard room.
Switchboard helps you build relationships more easily by letting you have more spontaneous interactions with your colleagues. Source: Switchboard

In-person meetings vs virtual: Get the best of both worlds with Switchboard 

Modern meetings are a lot like bazaars. They both bring people together to exchange ideas, work together, and build relationships. But online meetings and virtual ones both come with some challenges. Online meetings can feel transactional and make it harder to connect with your team members. In-person ones, on the other hand, lack flexibility when it comes to scheduling and can be more time-consuming. 

To help your teams be more productive and work together more effectively, you need to know when to choose one format over the other. 

In this piece, we reviewed the pros and cons of each type of meeting and highlighted the situations each is best for. Generally, virtual calls are better for smaller teams, informal check-ins, and briefings. In-person meetings are more suitable for relationship-building and brainstorming sessions.

Take care when choosing a platform for your online meetings. Traditional video conferencing platforms tend to rely on one-sided screen sharing and don’t create opportunities for spontaneous interactions. However, with the right digital workspace platform, you can have the best of both worlds—the freedom of being online and the engagement and connection of side-by-side working.

Switchboard seamlessly brings these two worlds together in a virtual collaborative bazaar. Just like the bustling atmosphere of a traditional marketplace, Switchboard helps you create a dynamic, interactive environment where your team members can interact spontaneously and get things done—whether they're in person or not.

Want the flexibility of hybrid working without compromising on productivity?
Switchboard brings your teams and tools together to give you the best of both worlds—the benefits of an in-person meeting in a virtual setting.
Sign up for free

Frequently asked questions about in-person meetings vs virtual 

What’s the difference between virtual meetings and physical meetings?

Virtual meetings let you connect with your team members or clients remotely and gather people from various locations in a shared digital space. Physical meetings, on the other hand, require everyone to be in the same physical space—be it a conference room or office. 

Video conferences are more inclusive, suit a range of communication styles, can be shorter and easier to keep on track, and can be recorded more easily for future reference. But it’s easy to miss out on body language and get distracted, especially if you’re working from home. 

In physical meetings, there are fewer distractions and you can rely on non-verbal cues and in-person dynamics to communicate your ideas and build relationships. There are also more opportunities for spontaneous conversations and brainstorming. But they’re harder to record, can be more time-consuming, and require everyone to be in the same place. 

What is the purpose of in-person meetings?

In-person meetings bring people together and enable direct, face-to-face interactions. The goal of these meetings is to engage in real-time conversations, ask spontaneous questions, and provide immediate feedback, leading to more productive discussions and decision-making.

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Want the flexibility of hybrid working without compromising on productivity?

Switchboard brings your teams and tools together to give you the best of both worlds—the benefits of an in-person meeting in a virtual setting.