HBR Research: In-Person Meetings Are Critical to Relationship-Building

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Harvard Business Review
A new Harvard Business Review survey finds that in-person meetings are vital when it comes to building positive, long-term inter-employee relationships in today’s remote-work environment.

Corporate America has a little problem: While 93% of respondents to a recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey have adopted a remote working mode, seven out of 10 agreed that this model can make employees feel disconnected. Fortunately, an overwhelming majority of 88% also said that in-person meetings can help heal that disconnect and grow positive, long-term relationships between employees.

Alex Clemente, Managing Director of Analytic Services at Harvard Business Review, said, “The broad adoption of remote work can create hurdles to building an office culture and fostering engagement, so business travel has become even more critical to bringing colleagues together.”

Other benefits of in-person internal corporate meetings, respondents agreed, was greater collaboration among individuals and teams (60%), stronger organizational culture (55%), greater employee engagement (54%) and an increased feeling of inclusion for remote workers/dispersed teams (46%).

Harvard Business Review Survey
While this may mean that employees will have to travel to make those in-person meetings, offsites and workshops happen, it’s worth the time out of office and the expense, respondents to the Harvard Business Review survey said. For example, 79% said in-person meetings were more effective than virtual meetings for team-building, compared to just 19% who said virtual meetings were effective. Another 70% said meeting in person is preferable for brainstorming (compared to 26% who said the same for virtual brainstorming sessions).

And when it comes to interviewing, hiring and onboarding/training, in-person also wins out of virtual (64% to 32% for key candidate interviews, and 58% over 31% for onboarding/training). This may in part be based on experience during the pandemic, where 40% said the lack of in-person internal meetings had a negative effect on their organization’s professional development and training.

The value of in-person meetings in other scenarios also was brought to light during the pandemic business-travel drought, the survey found. Around half said the lack of internal in-person meetings caused collaboration issues, decreased employee engagement, and exacerbated communication challenges. In fact, just 6% said the dearth of in-person internal meetings caused their organization to experience no negative business impacts.

While these executive respondents did recognize the value of in-person meetings, they also pointed out that in-person travel to meet offsite with colleagues is down compared to pre-pandemic levels, and 56% said travel to company meetings is also down. But, given these results, that could be changing.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we had certainly proven that, for a period of time, we could be very successful as an organization with most employees working remotely. But our leaders made a very intentional decision to bring people back together coming out of the pandemic in support of our culture because we firmly believe being together creates connections, fosters collaboration, and drives innovation, which delivers for our patients,” said Adam Goldberg, Global Head of Travel and Meetings Sourcing at Bristol Myers Squibb Co., in the report.

The research, which was conducted by Harvard Business Review in collaboration with American Express Global Business Travel, surveyed 425 business decision-makers. See the full report here.

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