Are Virtual Office Meetings Better Than the Real Thing?

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Imagine going to your company meeting in your pajamas. It might be more likely of a reality than you would think. With virtual events becoming a fast growing industry, many business and trade meetings are going online instead of meeting up in the real world.

Results published by Market Media Research shows that virtual meetings and events doubled from 2008 and 2009. The industry is expected to grow to $18.6 billion by 2015, a 56 percent annual growth rate. Especially when it comes to virtual trade shows and conferences, USA Today says that companies are even turning to programs like Second Life to host their virtual meetings while other businesses are developing innovative techniques to combine social media and the virtual event to create a more personalized experience.

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“In today’s cost-conscious business environment, demand for hybrid events–a physical event with a virtual extension before, during or after the physical event takes place–will continue to grow,” ON24’s CEO Sharat Sharan said in a press release. The San Francisco-based company is one of the biggest players in the virtual event world. Sharan told BBC News that one of his clients this year spent a tenth of the $5 million dollars they usually spent on conferences by going online.

Virtual conferences still allow for the exchange of information, questions and answers with employees, clients and prospective clients through chat, file sharing and other familiar techniques which is why some companies are opting to use the technology to host training sessions or annual trade shows. Recently, ON24 held the VUE2010, an all day virtual event about virtual events hosted by MC Hammer today. A preview clip of the conference can be seen below.

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On24 asked over 2,000 executives, and 92 percent the number one benefit to them of virtual meetings was the fact that there was no travel – with 27 percent admitting that they love working from the comfort of their own homes. The events are green and offer flexibility to have more attendees show up at the event than traditional spaces and budgets would have permitted. While not being on location has its benefits – for example, the top reasons cited were that you don’t have to meet people and you can leave meetings early undetected – those options can seem counterproductive to the entire point of having a company meeting. Goodbye cocktail hour, hello virtual drink time with your online colleagues. It can be hard to make contacts without meeting people in person, but when so much business is done over the internet through emails and social media it might not be that bad to start your first meeting as an online interaction. 67 percent of people added it was easier to talk to someone online and introduce themselves, something they may have shied away from in the real world.

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The New York Times writes that some companies have found a solution for the lack of personal connection in a hybrid version of the virtual event. Cisco Systems held their annual GSX as a virtual meeting, but with 1,100 viewing rooms so at least some of their employees could meet in real life. “We felt if we got people together locally it would help us achieve two goals that were difficult to accomplish virtually — motivation and recognition of our salespeople,” senior manager in Cisco’s global sales operation Angela Smith said to the paper. The world may want more cost-effective and more practical online interactions, but there’s still something to be said for human contact.

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