Internal meetings were supposed to be killed off by video conferencing, but it looks like in-person face-to-face will be back with a bang this year.
This post first appeared here on Skift.com as part of the Future of Work briefing
When a company as large as Shopify, circa 10,000 employees, declares it is banning meetings that involve more than two people, change is afoot.
The remote work-friendly firm, which builds software to help companies sell products online, wants to save the sanity of its staff who are being burdened by an overload of virtual meetings. This operational shift, which will affect only recurring meetings, will eliminate 10,000 company events, equivalent to 76,500 hours of meetings, according to Fortune magazine.
Experts now predict a resurgence in business travel following widespread video conferencing and online meeting fatigue, as organizations settle into better hybrid-work practices.
“We are seeing a significant increase in internal in-person meetings from our enterprise Fortune 1,000 clients,” said Ciaran Delaney, CEO and founder of booking platform Hubli. “These meetings have an average of 32 attendees and grew by 515 percent in 2022 versus the previous year.”
He added most were now reducing their office footprint and hiring more remote-first employees, and anticipates the blend between in-person and virtual to continue to evolve and refine. “Clearly both are required, and both address different needs,” he said. “In-person is critical for collaboration, innovation and relationship building while virtual brings added convenience and is ideal for more functional project driven tasks.”
According to a recent survey of UK and U.S. event planners by etc venues, more than half (53.5 percent) have seen a noticeable improvement in business performance within their organization since returning to face-to-face meetings. And 99 per cent valued them more than or the same as before the pandemic, up from 82 per cent a year ago.
As the shift to remote work continues, amid waning interest in virtual meeting platforms (based on Google searches) and after the bubble bursting in the middle of last year, there’ll be renewed interest in virtual office platforms.
These are designed to replicate that “persistent” presence online, and if working properly can lead to frictionless, impromptu remote collaboration, rather than scheduled Zooms.
“There isn’t a boardroom in the country that’s not asking the question: what do we need to do to right-size our real estate commitments,” said Adam Riggs, CEO of U.S.-based virtual office and event platform Frameable. “The following question is, what types of technology are going to support that?”
Frameable has designed online work and social spaces for companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, and Uber, and began including office environments a year ago.
“It’s not like a new category of travel, but there’s a new level of demand for internal team travel,” he added. “Instead of doing it once a year for the whole company, you’re doing it once a month for different teams.”
He also believes while sales kick-offs and conferences work online, many companies are “still warming up” to the concept of the persistent virtual space. “The larger the company is, and the more real estate commitments they have, it takes a while for those to adjust,” he said, adding that the likes of Zoom and even Meta aren’t evolving with the times, partly because there’s a risk any drastic changes may alienate their customers.
However Zoom recently announced it was adding a new workplace tool, called Zoom Spot, later this year in a bid to recreate those impromptu water cooler moments.
“We understand the need for connection and simplified communication in a hybrid work world, and one thing we have learned is that people miss spontaneous conversations and collaboration when they worked side-by-side,” said Joseph Chong, head of product, solutions, and industry marketing, in a company blog post.
Zoom mail and calendar services are also planned.
“Look at someone like Facebook,” Riggs coninued. “They have a lot of resources, they have a vision that work is going to unfold in the metaverse, but people are having a hard time trusting that’s where the solution is going to come from, and especially because of their interest in hardware as part of the solution.”
John Lee, of the Work From Anywhere Team, which has just launched a new app to help companies understand the risks around hiring or working from anywhere, said the remote working shift has led to a refocusing on meeting in person.
“Even the best remote companies focus on using in-person catch-ups to build connection and culture,” he said.
Remote workers aren’t just taking advantage of their flexibility to take extended holidays or tick off their bucket lists, they’re also using that time to shop around for their next city, or even country.
That’s according to Blueground, which released its 2023 Trend Report this week. It predicts there will be a short-term rental “try before you buy” revolution.
Blueground said it provided 33,500 guests with a home in 2022, across 11,000 apartments. During that year, 44 percent of its guests extended their lease beyond the initially planned terms, up from 39 percent in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
“Well before work from anywhere became a trend, I envisioned Blueground as a way for people to feel at home and settled while still enjoying a flexible, mobile lifestyle,” said Alex Chatzieleftheriou, Blueground’s CEO and co-founder.
While some employees might shy away from telling their boss they’re looking for such a seismic lifestyle change, savvy employers may want to embrace this. It’s another sign of the continual blending of our personal and professional lives.