In-Person Meetings Drive Collaboration and Innovation

Does face time result in more innovation? Yahoo said “yes” when it ended telecommuting. And new meetings research reveals the same. But how do you show the value of your association’s in-person offerings?

Unless you’ve managed to avoid all media this week, I’m sure by now you’ve heard about Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer’s new companywide policy that will end working from home for all employees beginning June 1.

According to the tech site All Things D, Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development, sent an internal memo to employees attributing the change to a need for greater collaboration and productivity.

If there was ever a time for associations to show the value of their in-person meetings to members and prospects, it’s now.

No matter Yahoo’s reason, Meyer’s decision has once again cracked open the hotly contested, “Should you or shouldn’t you?” debate that surrounds telecommuting. Some bloggers came out in support of the new policy, while others found holes in the reasoning, saying the change won’t last long.

But there is some scientific research to back Meyer’s decision. According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers a few years back, face time with colleagues provides higher-quality results and that “proximity promotes collaboration” and innovation and better learning.

This got me thinking about how this research—and Yahoo’s reasons for its decision—applies to the meetings space. No, it doesn’t mean associations should eliminate their virtual learning options, but some recently released meetings research does match up with the reasons Yahoo gave for implementing its new policy.

A scientific study released last month showed that “face-to-face meetings significantly outperform other meeting formats when it comes to generating new ideas.” Conducted by the IMEX Group in partnership with the Meetology Group, the study involved pairs participating in brainstorming sessions face-to-face, over the phone, and via video chat.  Results showed that a face-to-face meeting between two people who do not know each other resulted in more creative ideas than the other two methods.

“The statistics show there is a significant difference in the number of creative ideas generated, a marginal but notable difference in the quality of those ideas, and also a greater variety of ideas produced,” said Dr. Paul Redford, who planned and managed the research.

Face-to-face pairs generated, on average, 30 percent more ideas than the virtual pairs. And face to face, the highest number of ideas generated by a pair was 29, which was 50 percent more than those generated under voice-only conditions and 70 percent more than were generated under video conditions.

“These findings are very exciting for the whole industry and their implications are wide-ranging for meetings and event planners and particularly those responsible for developing future direction and strategy,” said IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer.

Think of some things the association meetings industry has working against its face-to-face offerings right now: Rising airfare costs, increased government scrutiny about whether to allow federal employees to attend conferences, and the possible effects of sequestration .

If there was ever a time for associations to communicate and demonstrate the value of their in-person meetings to members and prospects, it’s now. And it has to go beyond the frequently used “this is a great opportunity to network with your peers and listen to industry leaders” marketing tactic.

Maybe use some of your association’s member research to say something like: “You’ve told us these are the three top issues you’re dealing with. Come to this meeting, and you’ll have the chance to sit in a room and pick the minds of your peers and brainstorm solutions on the spot.” Or you can highlight IMEX’s new research and bring it to life by telling the story of past attendees who have generated ideas at a prior meeting, brought them back to their offices, and then implemented them successfully.

How is your association communicating the value of its in-person offerings to both members and prospects?


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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