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The Pros of Online Meetings
Considering the advantages and disadvantages of online meetings, let's look first at the advantages. In today's working environment there are many advantages to online meetings, mainly due to the internet. Streaming video along with audio at a low cost is now a huge advantage, thanks to the power of the internet. Online meetings can now have round-table cameras or personal webcams on laptops and desktops to show each participant. In addition, the internet has brought forth voice over internet protocol (VoIP) options for groups to dial in, greatly decreasing the cost of speaking over the phone.
The biggest advantage of online meetings is the savings in costs. No longer do companies have to waste valuable resources to fly in people, keep them in expensive hotels, and have them rent cars for meetings. The travel time adds up as well: Whether it's a one-hour drive or a 16-hour flight, it's valuable time being wasted. Time is money, as people would say.
Another advantage of online meetings is the morale for people involved. If someone has a family, they most likely do not want to be traveling to meetings in different locations and missing out on valuable family time. Online meetings allow people with families to stay local and, in some circumstances, they can even attend the meeting while watching their kids. Online meetings allow people to communicate wherever they have an internet connection.
One other advantage is the fact that you can save and store the meeting for the attendees and for the folks who could not attend. This helps keep track of action items that were mentioned during the meeting. It also helps keep track of any meeting notes that were missed but recorded.
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The Cons of Online Meetings
Online meetings also have disadvantages, not just advantages.
There is a fine line when distinguishing the types of meetings that will work with the advantages and disadvantages of online meetings. Certain types of meetings just do not work in an online environment. Meetings where face-to-face time is valuable, for instance, would not work. Sometimes people have to watch and see subtle body language that isn't possible with webcams. In addition, sometimes the nuances in voices or the words typed in chat windows can be taken the wrong way and might lead to miscommunication of the message.
Technical difficulties are also a big hurdle for many online meetings. The connection could go down in one area, disconnecting an entire team at once, or the mic might pick up feedback or static, leading to repeated attempts to state the same thing. Technical hurdles can delay meetings for up to half an hour or more if the local IT staff cannot fix the problem, leading to wasted time.
Time zones are also a big hurdle for online meetings. An afternoon meeting for some might mean a late night meeting or early morning meeting for others. For larger, international companies, this can be an even bigger problem if the time zone differences are vast. Nobody appreciates having to attend a meeting at 5 AM or 10 PM while they know others are still in their work hours.
One advantage I listed above is the ability to save and store the meetings. This can also be a disadvantage. If the meeting were leaked, valuable information could be sent to a competitor or news outlet. If the saved meetings are not safeguarded correctly, the business could lose its competitive advantage in one fateful information leak.
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The Final Stance
There are many advantages and disadvantages of online meetings, each adding or hindering the business. So which is better, online meetings or in-person meetings? The answer is that both are valuable and advantageous when used correclty. Weighing both the advantages and disadvantages seems to indicate more disadvantages. The key is knowing how to work around the disadvantages and knowing when to go with in-person meetings.
Looking at the advantages, online meetings should be used for information-gathering or information-dispersal meetings. In conjunction with PowerPoint presentations, these types of online meetings will work in gathering requirements or giving out action items in quick, one-hour sessions. If sensitive information is involved, proper steps should be taken to protect the meeting recordings or else the meeting should not be recorded. Online meetings should also span for more nationwide projects, which shouldn't span across more than 3 time zones.
In-person meetings should be considered when brainstorming sessions are required or when the parties involved are settling issues. Brainstorming sessions work much better in a face-to-face environment where people can gauge interest or disinterest based on just body language alone. Settling issues is also important to perform in person, as the small nuances of seeing a person act can help lighten the mood and not lead to more issues arising from miscommunication.