Similar to other social interactions, networking is now majorly conducted via online means. We often connect and stay in touch with other professionals whom we've never met in person before. As a result, platforms like LinkedIn have grown multiple times over the past decade.
This digital transformation process was further accelerated during the pandemic. One of the most important adoptions of the 'new normal life' was remote work, which according to McKinsey accelerated 43 times faster than expected.
So we can't help but ask, are in-person meetings still a thing or is it better to meet through a screen?
Not long ago, an expert article in Forbes highlighted that face-to-face interactions could make a stronger impact on relationship development. The article went as far as to point out that technology could never replace in-person meetings, unless absolutely necessary. Online interactions, it stated, must be limited to occasions where a business is "too dependent on long-distance, digital and impersonal meetings".
The article's premises were not unfounded. Dunlap and Murtagh's 2016 research suggested that "behaviors—such as facial expressions, the placement of head and shoulders, the use of hands—can deliver information, regulate the interaction, and express feelings and intimacy". This is in line with Dr. Mehrabian's research in the 1960s, which described that 55% of our communication is visual - known as "body language".
Nonetheless, this notion may as well get challenged in the future, as social norms and body language are simulated virtually.
Consider for instance that new social norms have emerged because of virtual meetings, but people are still adapting to them. A 2021 research paper by Katherine A. Karl, Joy V. Peluchette, and Navid Aghakhani on the "Virtual Work Meetings During the COVID-19 Pandemic", actually concluded that the sudden shift toward a remote work environment, found employees being unaware of the virtual meetings' social norms and etiquettes.
To add, according to research by Covve, users expect that important communication elements such as body language and eye contact will be simulated effectively through digital meeting points, like the metaverse.
The above leads us to two important points.
Firstly, in-person meetings matter. Although online meetings are easier, faster and more efficient than in-person ones, meeting in person can be more effective in important situations, such as negotiations, where body language and communication have an important role in the conversation.
Secondly, body language and new social norms are established and evolve as the frequency of online meetings increases.
Therefore, in the future the paradigm of online vs in-person meetings will naturally shift towards the former, without of course undermining or eliminating the importance and usefulness of the latter.