Editor’s note: Investor and entrepreneur David Gardner is founder of Cofounders Capital in Cary and is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire.

CARY – In person meetings are back on the rise but that does not seem to be significantly curtailing the number of virtual meetings.

From a market gap of $3.85 billion in 2019, climbing to $7.87 billion in 2020, it looks like the virtual meeting space is going to hold on to the vast majority of its gains in 2021 and is predicted to maintain a CAGR of 11.45% through 2026.

The virtual meeting space is a quintessential example of the innovation hype cycle which demonstrates how the impact of paradigm-shifting technologies are generally over estimated for the first five years and then underestimated during the following five year period.

I remember how normal it felt throughout most of my career to get on a plane and travel all day just to attend a single one-hour meeting even though I had virtual meeting technologies at my disposal.  The thought of doing that today seems barbaric to me.

Critics of virtual meetings have argued that the modality fosters significantly reduced engagement, productivity, learning outcomes, etc. over in person meetings.   I remember reading a virtual learning report around 2009 that demonstrated that 90% of online learning students did not even have the presenter’s window up for the majority of the class.

Over time, however, minimum-viable-products turn into full featured ones.  When that study was done, very few laptops and computers had video cameras or synchronous user engagement tools, which I believe, significantly improved attendee participation.  We also have a higher tolerance today for attendee multitasking.  Admittedly, I often only give full attention to the parts of a virtual meeting that require my full attention.

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The collaboration use case is one where I feel an in person experience still significantly outclasses virtual modalities.   One of my startups back in 2008 involved designing virtual meeting environments.

I watched dozens of hours of video of people in interactive meetings.  Something I noticed was that during an interactive fast exchange of ideas it is normal for two or more participants to all start talking at once.  When this happens during an in person meeting, listeners tend to “vote with their noses” i.e. they will look at the person they want to hear most from as if to say that they are voting for this speaker to have the floor.  Other simultaneous speakers see the majority of listening participants giving their attention to another speaker and they instinctively yield the floor and wait to talk.  This can happen several times per minute and these visual directional cues act like the lubricant that keeps all of these moving parts working together.  Absent these directional cues, virtual collaborators tend to talk over each other or communicate in a much less efficient serial fashion.

There are many wonderful benefits associated with the adoption of virtual meeting technology.  It is enabling us to meet more efficiently, more often and more cost effectively but it is still not the optimal tool for team collaborative meetings.

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