Our personal and professional lives shrank during the pandemic. With businesses shuttered and schools closed, our worlds were reduced to the square-footage of our homes. Locked away in these little bubbles—without outside diversions to occupy our time—we had the opportunity to reflect on what’s truly important. We thought about our families, careers and communities, and what happens to the quality of our relationships when we don’t actually see each other in the flesh.
If the past three years have taught us anything at ExperiencePoint, it’s how meaningful, even life-affirming, it can be to collaborate with another person face to face– without a wonky Zoom connection acting as a middleman. Online-meeting software might have saved the world from economic calamity during COVID—how many of us would’ve been out of a job if the virus had hit in the early 1990s?—but it didn’t replace the profound feeling of connection and understanding that we get from meeting in real life. If modern business is an economy built on relationships, then in-person events—from short team-building activities to multi-day conferences—are the engines that drive collaboration, growth and innovation.
Our facilitators have noticed a huge shift in people's attitudes toward getting together for in-person workshops. Many of the corporate events we’ve led over the past year marked the first time that companies gathered in the same room since the pandemic. So our workshops provided the occasion for many colleagues to meet face to face for the first time, after months–even years–of collaborating virtually.
Our newest facilitator, Chi Wright, says that being a part of these moments has been a remarkable experience.
“The difference is how much people seem to cherish the opportunity to be with their colleagues in person. Before the pandemic, it was more routine and taken for granted. I see teams and leaders leaning in more, being more honest, more vulnerable and more curious. People are eager to connect and forge relationships and it’s an honor to facilitate those experiences.”
The proof is in the numbers
The benefits of gathering teams in person aren’t just about good feelings; they’re supported by strong research. Forbes Insights surveyed more than 750 business executives about their thoughts on in-person versus virtual meetings. A startling 85 percent said they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships when they meet in person. When asked to elaborate, they described intangible benefits that can be tricky to measure. They said it’s easier to “read” someone when you’re actually in the same room, and that making real team connections requires all participants to be fully present, free from the distractions that often come with being online.
Meanwhile, research by the Harvard Business Review found that 95 percent of people say "face-to-face meetings are a key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term business relationships." And the Event Marketing Institute found that 80 percent of event attendees believe that in-person interactions are "vital for developing strong professional relationships."
Virtual events are accessible events
This research shouldn’t discount the fact that virtual meetings have taught us a lot about accessibility. New research indicates that the increase in virtual meetings during the pandemic contributed enormously to progress for questions of access. Online events make it easier for those with different physical abilities to attend. They also level the financial playing field by eliminating the need for travel; attending isn’t a matter of who can afford to hop on a plane or pay for additional childcare. Digitally enabled meetings also make it easier for shy and introverted people to contribute in a meaningful way. It’s much less daunting to type a response into a chat window than stand-up in a conference room and address dozens of people.
But many of these benefits could exist in in-person settings through the means and planning of employers and organizers—just because the world is returning to in-person events doesn’t mean that we have to go back to our old ways. With the pandemic in our rear-view, we can better adjust the way physical meetings work in order to balance convenience, access and wellness.
And some of the apparent perks of online meetings come with corresponding pitfalls. Simply hopping into a Zoom window for a 45-minute stretch means that you’re still surrounded by the mental and emotional weights of your regular workday. Distraction is plentiful, and your attention can be splintered. When you actually take the time to leave your home—to venture out into the world with all the social obligations (attire, personal hygiene, conversational graces) that come with it—you make a commitment to yourself and to others.
Go big or go home
Before the pandemic, when meeting in person was the norm, we didn’t have any particularly special expectations about corporate events. Team-building activities were a par for the course, extensions of a work structure that was already in place. But with the ease of a virtual existence still fresh in our minds, we don’t want to leave the comfort of our homes without a compelling reason. That’s something that longtime facilitator Andrew Webster has noticed.
“There was a grace period where people were just so excited to be face-to-face, so all events were good events. But then, with the world also exposed to the conveniences of home, it wasn't long before they expected more from when they were brought together,” he says.
At ExperiencePoint, satisfying this expectation is a huge part of our mission. We understand the importance of making these opportunities unique and memorable. We also know that, in order to be successful, events can’t function as “one and done” activities; the training taught must segue naturally into daily work. Our workshops are designed to achieve this by providing a framework for future work. People leave our events with stronger teams and collaboration skills, but also with an understanding of how they’ll apply new learnings once they’re back in their routine.
We also have a profound understanding of people’s attitude to time. Nobody wants to waste it. If people are making the effort to attend an IRL gathering, they want to maximize how that time together is used. Any work that can be done before the event, either asynchronously or via online meetings, should be. Time is our most valuable commodity; in a post-pandemic world, we feel that more acutely than ever.
In fact, a major takeaway from the pandemic is how virtual and in-person events each have their place, and can be combined for optimal engagement. There’s background reading, preparatory activities and planning that might best be done ahead of time, via an online platform or meeting. Then the time spent together can be dedicated to the kind of dynamic collaborative work that depends on forging authentic connections.
This past year, we’ve led in-person events that have marked huge developments when it comes to the intersection of connection and innovation. Some have been focused sessions among senior leaders, while others have been ambitious company-wide corporate events, such as the 3000-person workshop we led for a leading American professional services firm. We’ve been helping companies collaborate in dynamic, cross-functional ways, empowering them to define a future in which they’ll play a leading role.
“The world today is facing unprecedented changes,” says Wright. “And we’re helping clients with some of the world’s most pressing problems.”
Want to learn more about the kinds of events we offer at ExperiencePoint? Read about them on our website.