Returning To Business Travel Post-Pandemic Could Re-Ignite Trust
Monique Mardinian, Founder and CEO of Zii Technologies.
I have been working on a global partnership deal for the past several months. My prospective partners and I have never interacted together in person. The deal that we are putting together requires us all to trust, not only in the plan but also in the business relationship.
I’m convinced that companies should be putting business travel and in-person meetings back into their plans once it is safe to do so and the CDC recommends traveling again. Even though we’ve more or less perfected the art of virtual navigation and communication, and while virtual meetings are convenient, there are many reasons to return to face-to-face interactions.
As someone who has always built relationships and closed deals in person, I was curious to dig deeper into the facts behind our exclusively virtual collaborations — what we gained and what we lost.
Typically, when I meet with potential partners, there’s more than just business. We’re able to take advantage of the downtime before and after meetings to become more familiar with each other on a personal level. In less formal settings, it’s that much easier to establish a greater sense of rapport. Personalities and senses of humor can shine through.
Research shows that face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships. According to a survey by Great Business Schools, 95% of executives confirmed they prefer to meet this way. It’s easier to get a sense of someone’s credibility and establish trust when we’re together in person.
Brain science explains why this trust is so crucial. When there’s empathy and social connection, oxytocin is released, cementing that relationship. And, as reported by the Harvard Business Review, positive impressions of character are more likely to occur face-to-face when body language and voice play a role in the conversation.
The way we communicated in deal-making processes had to be adjusted to convey that sense of trustworthiness over virtual platforms. In person, consciously or unconsciously, we often exhibit the “chameleon effect.” We mimic the body language, gestures and facial expressions of others, and create trust. Engagement is heightened, more information is retained and negotiations and compromises can be more fluid and successful.
In our meetings with the prospective partner I mentioned, we discussed our vision of the partnership. We talked about the expertise each of us brings to the group and the benefits we will contribute to the marketplace. While we can still discuss all these details virtually, I’ve observed that arriving at mutual agreements requires less time and effort when we can talk in person. When people aren’t reading between the lines of a virtual conversation, negotiations feel more transparent and concise.
In our business, we know that traveling to another company’s place of business can ignite trust. It’s easier to witness the organization’s culture, how individuals collaborate and communicate with one another and how much passion someone has for their business. It simply isn’t possible to gauge this fully through virtual meetings.
Virtual meetings do offer some benefits apart from the obvious downfalls like technical difficulties and filter mishaps. (Remember that lawyer? “I am not a cat.”) Based on my own experience, everyone is polite and understanding when glitches occur, but these interruptions are undeniably disruptive to the conversation, especially because the subjects are quite complex and sensitive.
One of the main downfalls is that distractions are much more likely, especially when people become hyperaware of their on-screen appearance. In fact, 69% of people admitted to browsing social media during audio-only conference calls. Research performed by the University of Tennessee reports that prolonged, direct eye gaze and the constant shift of on-screen images contribute to Zoom fatigue, the physical and mental exhaustion associated with virtual meetings. The increased size of faces can feel like an invasion of personal space, and this could trigger a fight or flight response in the brain that is detrimental to attentive listening and focus.
The convenience of technology cannot be denied. Despite this, I believe that there is no virtual alternative that compares to the value of meeting in person and the meaningful connections that can be established through business travel.
Investing time and money for traveling to in-person meetings can highlight the importance of that business relationship in the future. Each participant can feel significant with a clear goal and purpose. And everyone can feel more accountable for their actions because they don’t want to disappoint their colleagues, partners or themselves.
When strong social connections are built, performance can improve, making it crucial for companies to continue to travel and engage in face-to-face meetings. We can form and maintain long-lasting, positive impressions through in-person interactions. We can not only secure business deals and partnerships but also help sustain them in the future.
That’s certainly true of our newfound collaboration. While we successfully established a working relationship through a virtual platform, I believe the collaboration progress we’ve made to date would have taken half the time and might have been a lot more fun if we had been able to meet in person. As soon as restrictions permit and safety is not compromised, my prospective partners and I plan to meet in person to move toward an agreement that will finalize our vision.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?