Insights

The Business Case for Returning to Meeting Face-to-Face

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Previously, we discussed why humans are wired to be together. And while we're all eager to meet again in person, we know it's a winding road back. A lot has happened since the start of the new year and COVID-19 is still rocking the meetings and events world. 

That's why we checked in with our customers to see what’s in store for their programs. Is there a case for returning to full face-to-face events? Is there a middle road where in-person, hybrid, and virtual events are all part of the equation? And when? 

Here's what we know now.  

Customer Insights on the Future of
Corporate Meetings and Events


The return of face-to face meetings 

49% of customers anticipate returning to face-to-face events will coincide with returning to offices. The journey to returning to offices is taking place at varied speeds and phases across the globe, heavily impacted by local regulation and healthcare guidance. 

As we know from our post on human connection, a return to office life is an important aspect in balancing virtual fatigue, improving collaboration, and improving overall health. This is a reality backed by science. Studies show that face-to-face conversation is an important aspect of a teams’ communication context and is essential in regulating teams’ cohesion and attitude. Overall, in-person communication reduces negative affect in teams working together, and those teams that meet face-to-face more frequently may make greater use of electronic communication.

Across generations in the workforce, people overwhelmingly prefer face-to-face meetings when communicating with colleagues. Similarly, over 80 percent of both Gen X and Millennial employees say that communicating through face-to-face meetings is critically important to maintaining relationships at work and greater than phone, email, instant messaging, texting, social network sites and video chat.

Fortunately, with the emergence and rollout of effective vaccines, there is a positive outlook for staff returning to office settings to compliment the virtual collaboration that continues to take place.Return to Face-to-Face Events Bar Graph | Global agency, BCD Meetings & EventsCurrently, about 4% of customers are conducting face-to-face events, which is slightly lower than in autumn 2020. Given the number of challenges organizations must navigate to proceed with in-person meetings, the varied state of conditions across the globe, and the ongoing rollout of vaccines, this isn't shocking. Customers tell us the biggest obstacles to returning to face-to-face are the same ones they faced at the start of the pandemic. They include:

  • Social distancing while traveling and on-site at events (17%) 
  • Rapidly changing regulations (15%) 
  • Quarantine upon arrival and return (13%)
  • Health risks when attendees return home (13%) 

These challenges, however, are not insurmountable. While some aspects are out of our control, the industry has collectively risen to the challenge to address the needs of in-person events with new procedures and expectations for these types of meetings. Most customer views reflect a more prevalent return to face-to-face in Q3 2021 or later. While this is one quarter behind predictions last autumn, it is a timely assessment.   

Two pie charts explaining future of virtual events | Global agency, BCD Meetings & Events

The future of hybrid meetings and events

In the meantime, meetings and events are still taking place, but in new formats. The industry has adapted, and while we continue to live in a digital world, virtual experiences and hybrid models are fulfilling a need previously not there.

53% of customers predict fully virtual formats will remain prominent in 2021. Hybrid formats lag just behind at 47%Organizations that have had pivoted and built virtual and hybrid strategies are ahead of the game because these formats are here to stay. Over 50% of customers say 20% to 30% (or more) of smaller, internal events that shifted to virtual or hybrid will not shift back to face-to-face.   

Next week, we'll take a look at how to know if hybrid is right for your meetings strategy. In the meantime, email us today to find out what other insights our client survey revealed and what it means for the future of meetings and events.

 

For more information on the studies referenced in this article and more, visit:
USC, London Business School and PwC Study, Surprise! Millennials prefer face-to-face not Facebook

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