What work must be done in person?

“What remote work is possible?” is easy to answer. But “What in-person meetings are essential?” is hard.

The Center’s Workgroup #2 (which is now hybrid) brings this best practice down to earth.


  • Bob DeVita
  • Patti Epstein
  • Raj Gadre
  • Bill Mitchell
  • Tim Stewart
  • Kristi Thering
  • Derrick Van Mell

Developing a policy for remote work is difficult because meeting in person is essential for some people in some situations in ways unique to each organization. Winning this game of 3D chess is essential to productivity, retention and facilities and technology decisions.

3 Good Questions

  1. What customer, colleague or vendor meetings must be in person for yourorganization?
  2. What do in-person meetings provide youthat online meeting cannot?
  3. How would you persuade a customer, colleague or vendor to meet in person?

What we miss when we’re digitized. It’s not really subtle

“The eyes are the windows to your soul.” – Shakespeare

It’s easy to take for granted what we miss when not together in person. Even the best cameras, microphones and speakers filter a lot. After your next in-person meeting, list what you thought to be subtle sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations. Did they in fact make a big difference?

  • Real eye contact
  • Seeing the full environment
  • Facial expressions and hand gestures
  • Posture
  • Proximity (hard to “lean in” into the screen)
  • Firmness of a handshake
  • Sense experiences of the food and environment

Apple spent billions on work environments that stimulate collaborative creativity. That’s now unimportant? COVID forced us apart, but hard real estate dollars might be worth the soft costs of non-human interaction.

The creeping cost of compromised communication

The costs of poor communication build up in tiny increments. Relationships fade slowly, collaborative creativity weakens, small resentments build up. What happens when a meeting doesn’t go well? You need another meeting and 50 more emails.

You earn your pay by how you spend your time. Of course, every meeting should have a purpose statement, agenda, facilitator and notes.

This checklist of ideas will help you decide what meetings must be in person—and build from you’re your collective and individual schedules and policies for working remotely.

Scale and sector?

Technology is helping even personal services, like healthcare and clothes shopping, be partly virtual. Maybe someday in the Metaverse a Chinese doctor will be able to feel your nine pulses, but will patients sacrifice good care for convenience. Learn what meetings are essential from your peers:

  • Size of organization
  • Single or multiple facilities and countries
  • Type of entity: B2B vs. B2C
  • For- and non-profit

Interactions and relationship types?

Meeting in person is very cheap if you’re already at work, but it’s really expensive if you’re remote. If meeting in person is possible, who to meet and how to meet will vary by the type and size of the person and group.

  • Two-person meetings
  • Small groups
  • Large groups
  • Disciplinary or resolving a conflict
  • Initiating a relationship or a follow-up?
  • Prospect or customer
  • Vendor
  • New employee
  • Networking

Personality and humanity
Reading personalities is hard in person—and even harder when remote. All of today’s personality assessments are progressively simplified versions of Carl Jung’s psychology typology (below). I’m an ITNJ. What are you? What about the people you’re meeting with?

  • Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I)
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

At least know if you and your colleagues are introverts or extraverts.

Phase of relationship and sequence of meetings

You can alternate remote and in-person meetings depending on a) whether you know the person already and b) the cost of meeting in person. If the person is far away, you could use this sequence:

  • Meet virtually, to decide if a relationship you want to build or repair
  • Meet in person
  • Meet virtually
  • Meet in person from time to time to maintain close understanding

If the person is nearby, you could start with an in-person meeting.

Don’t forget to just ask people what kind of meeting they prefer.

Invest in tech and stick with it

Raj Gadre (CEO, Kennovation) reminded us that people were sure the world would fall apart when the telephone was invented. He also suggested sticking with the technology your using, to use it to its full capacity and don’t hop back and forth between online to in-person. Leaders must set examples (of course).

Investing in facilitation and meeting hygiene

Facilitating small and large meetings is a critical role—but a different topic. For now, you should be getting some people trained and certified. They’re the people who are going to put everyone’s time to its best use.

Everyone should understand the etiquette and protocols for every meeting. Get people good gear and remind them not to wear their pajamas. Remind them that those 2-dimensional images are real people.

Relevant Terms

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