How to Decide between Virtual and In-Person Meetings: Ask These 5 Questions

How to Decide between Virtual and In-Person Meetings: Ask These 5 Questions

The pros and cons of virtual versus in-person communication vary among individuals, couples, and families with children. Throughout the Covid pandemic, individuals weighed the risk of infection for themselves and possibly for their elderly or immunocompromised contacts. For families with children and schools the problem was and is more complex.

The pandemic forced schools to take the technological leap of holding classes and meetings online. Now that most schools have returned to in-person classes, administrators and teachers have a choice of where to hold meetings. Both online and in-person meetings have benefits, as well as, drawbacks. For example, virtual meetings take away the ability to read non-verbal cues, which some research suggests makes for 80% of our communication. On the other hand, in-person meetings can lack inclusivity of individuals’ communication styles. The Harvard Business Review found that some people are more comfortable speaking up in virtual meetings, which may lead to more diverse brainstorming sessions and problem-solving.

So, how does a school choose whether to meet virtually or in-person? From parent-teacher conferences to weekly teacher check-ins, follow these questions to decide.

1. What is the nature of the meeting?

In person Group Meeting Two people with IpadHarvard Business Review’s “When Do We Actually Need to Meet In-Person,” outlines a process to help an organization decide if an in-person meeting is necessary. They suggest considering whether the meeting is relationship-based or task-based. In a school setting, task-based meetings include preparation for school-wide events or reviews of scheduling problems. This type of meeting can be handled well virtually. Meanwhile, relationship-based meetings like parent-teacher conferences are better held in-person. When sensitive issues need to be addressed, face-to-face communication establishes trust.

2. What are the latest guidelines for public gatherings?

There have been conflicting guidelines for the ways schools might or might not meet with consideration to the pandemic. Look to federal, state, and local municipal guidelines and laws for direction.

3. Is the topic complex or difficult to understand? Is it emotionally complex, too?

Complexity of a problem and its emotional complexity both play a role in deciding how to meet. As the level of complexity rises in both problem and emotion, the more likely an in-person meeting will be successful. Check out The Harvard Business Review’s chart of complexity where relationship-based goals are ranked against the difficulty of a problem.

4. Which format will make the meeting most inclusive?

If a caregiver is out of the country, then a virtual conference can bridge the distance easily. Virtual meetings can connect out-of-state specialists and education leaders to your school, as well. In addition, virtual meetings may allow for more communication styles. For instance, a meeting held virtually might offer people with visual and text-based strengths an optimal way to participate through chat functions or shared screens.

5. Does the presenter have the skills and technology to hold a meeting online?

Not everyone is comfortable presenting online. A quick search on Google will bring up examples of presenters fumbling with technology or unable to repackage an in-person presentation into an engaging online experience. If possible, ask presenters in which venue they are most comfortable. Some presentations that require acting out scenarios or team building are better suited for in-person meetings.

Schools will not always have a choice as to whether a meeting is held online or in-person. The decision first and foremost depends on the state of public health and local guidelines. Regardless of whether you choose virtual or in-person meetings, websites such as the National Education Association offer more tips to help teachers and administrators navigate both.

About the Author


V.Kulikow Montessori Life Blog Author

V. Kulikow is a former Montessori teacher and youth services librarian. She currently works as a UX designer and enjoys content creation both with words and images.

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