Trust, Involvement, Body Language Keep Face-to-Face Meetings Alive

Device Ban, Part 2

In my earlier post, I had argued that if the curbs on electronic devices that air travellers could carry into cabins are made universal, virtual meetings would start to be pervasive.

Here, I touch on why videoconferencing will be a poor replacement for face-to-face meetings even as the world is steadily moving towards the realm of virtual reality and augmented reality through immersive experiences.

If driven to embracing it wholly for reasons beyond the control of business amid a dynamic security environment, video is an inevitable option. Its use, nonetheless, for routine sessions will remain relevant.

Communications through video with prospects will generally be devoid of serious engagement and I doubt if it will have the power to stimulate deep involvement. It may tread down the matter-of-fact path whereby questions are answered, concerns addressed and messaging conveyed.

Enough for Converting Opportunities into Wins?

But is that enough for converting opportunities into wins? Hardly! Winning deals is not that straightforward. Even prospects can find evaluation, decision-making and procurement difficult, particularly where multi-million-dollar investments are at stake.

When vendors and service providers are on an even keel, persuasive positioning with proof points and the trust factor come into play, hardly possible with virtual meetings. Communications yield the best outcome when verbal representations also factor in body language for a stronger rapport with the prospect, helping build trust that is essential for forging deals.

Mostly Regional, Seldom Cross-Continental

Business travels, however, are largely within the region and seldom cross-continental, except for meeting such deal closure requirements as reference site visits. They may, therefore, stay though their frequency can be expected to drop if the device ban becomes universal and across the board.

Beyond business encounters, travels for internal meetings aimed at staff engagement and cross-functional networking happen often. Based on my own experience, Cisco Systems used to have quarterly staff off-site meetings and an annual Sales Kickoff in the U.S. However, when the global economy took on an unwelcome swirl, cost-cutting measures became inevitable.

This led to Cisco even experimenting with a virtual annual Sales Kickoff which used to be held in the U.S., drawing 15,000 people there from all over the world. As a company that was placing big bets on video, selling TelePresence and other visual networking gear, Cisco had to live by example and not slow-pedal its innovations.

Skype and More for Easier Videoconferencing

Now the world has easier options than TelePresence for video-conferencing such as Skype and WebEx. But they have not replaced face-to-face meetings.

That’s simply because discussions online are hardly the same as staff being on site, engaging in face-to-face interactions with their counterparts. The purpose of communications is well served, but hardly anything beyond.

  • No room for bonding or interfaces that promote motivation, evoking a sense of commitment
  • Meaningful, participative engagement is unlikely
  • Effectively, the messaging is all well relayed but transparency is not the only objective of communications.
  • With virtual meetings, there is no opportunity to network with key stakeholders who help them sell.

London Incident a Reminder that Terror Threat is Well Alive and Kicking

That brings me back to the device bans and the impact it can have on business. Well, the curbs are only from the U.S. and the U.K. but more countries, including Canada and France, are said to be considering it.

This week’s lone-wolf terror incident in London that ISIS has claimed responsibility for may have nothing to do with flights and bans but it keeps alive the jihadist threat facing the world.

Singapore has announced it is keeping a close watch on the development while Australia has ruled it out.

Phone Explosions Because of Faulty Batteries

Since the ban applies to only devices of a certain size, it may be risky to hold phones such as iPhone 7 Plus. One can never be certain if phones that size will be allowed into cabins moving forward. That possibility may make phone manufacturers nervous.

Some airlines are offering free WiFi services now. If bombs can be triggered through laptops and tablets, why cannot it happen through phones. Perhaps terrorists are already developing innovations to give phones that capability.

That said, I don’t know why phones are still allowed into flight cabins considering the blasts that have happened mid-air because of faulty batteries. At least no charging on flights should be allowed.

Bans Must Go Beyond Arab World

To me, the ban confined to just the Arab world makes little sense as passengers may simply re-route their travels through countries that are not affected. Though it may cause them some inconvenience and cost more, any perceived threat to travel security (triggering blasts through electronic devices, for instance) will linger.

So, shouldn’t any such ban be all-encompassing with no country spared? Since home-grown terrorists, drawing inspiration from across their shores, exist even in the West, security threats can emanate from anywhere.

G Joslin Vethakumar


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Filed under Air Travel, Security

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