Face-to-face or screen-to-screen?

A man talks to a colleague on a device in an online meeting


As we plan our live, in-person Teambuild 2021 event from 19th to 21st November in High Wycombe, Teambuild trustee Richard Schofield, a Chartered Project Management Surveyor with over 40 years experience on major construction and engineering projects around the world, reflects on the differences between online and in-person meetings and events.


Few of us (including retirees like me!) have escaped the challenges of the virtual world of Zoom / Facetime / Teams / WhatsApp meetings, online training and webinars during the COVID pandemic.


It was inevitable that video communication technology which has been available to us for many
years would fast become the means of safely continuing our lives and businesses whilst complying with the law and maintaining a safe environment for ourselves, colleagues, friends and family.


Some may argue that this “new normal” should continue to save time, energy, congestion and
pollution as well as improving our work / life balance and allowing better accessibility for all.


In many respects, these factors are hard to dispute, yet we mustn’t lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interactions and the value of non-verbal communication in certain situations.


The way forward may be a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual communication – time will tell!
I’m sure that over this difficult period, most virtual “regular” meetings in our industry have been
successful despite the usual problems of system or hardware failure and the interesting distractions of peoples home decoration, clothing choice (bright yellow tee shirts etc.), barking dogs and unruly children (or spouses!).


However, what about those more challenging “non-regular” meetings? There are many times in the life of a project when difficult (crucial) conversations may be needed to resolve a dispute, tackle a contentious issue, deal with interpersonal matters etc. It’s in these situations where, in my opinion, (and based on personal experience) there is no substitute for face-to-face, eye-to-eye close contact communication.


Two occasions come to mind from my time in business. The first, in the USA involved a high profile public sector project where due to a rushed tender (due to political pressure) and resultant problems with information flow the project team started to “fall apart” There was a risk of bankruptcy of a major subcontractor, lawsuits and inevitable delayed project.


My astute client seeing the writing on the wall called the key parties to a meeting, not a formal meeting in a board room, but a get together in a bar sitting around a circular table (a great “leveller“ in itself) and we talked, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, openly and frankly about the situation. Within a couple of hours (including a few beers – this was the 1980’s!) a resolution to the problems and a way forward was agreed on handshakes all round.


The second occasion this time in the UK involved a design “impasse” between the architect and
planning officer. The disagreement over a particular design feature on a Grade 1 building was
putting the schedule (and costs) at risk. A meeting was arranged and the planning officer and
architect sat on opposite sides of a small desk with the rest of us observing. Things stalled then the architect took out a piece of blank paper and a pen and started to draw. The paper and pen then moved across the table for the planning office to add his input to the simple drawing.


After a number of exchanges over the table the sketch was completed, agreed, signed and the matter resolved.

Could these two examples of disputes have been resolved as easily “virtually”? – I doubt it.


Turning to online training, another important use of communication technology during the
pandemic, I do hope that we can soon return to face-to-face seminars, workshops and training.


Having facilitated over 100 workshops, presented many seminars and numerous Project
Management training events there is in my view no substitute for a live audience!


In this regard we are really looking forward to returning in November to our venue at Lane End
Conference Centre near High Wycombe.


If you are planning to enter the competition weekend please check out their website and look at all the provisions and safeguards they have made in response to the covid pandemic. You can also read their observations about face-to-face meetings post COVID and online training – very interesting reading!


Click here to find out more about how to enter Teambuild 2021

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