The pandemic has forced us to change the way we connect with each other. Access to and familiarity with virtual meeting programs like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams has become a life skill for people and businesses wanting to maintain any semblance of normalcy.
Our firm has found some benefits to virtual meetings. They are often less stressful and more convenient. As one client remarked during a virtual webinar in April, “This is so cool, you are here with me in my living room!” For this client, coming to our office meant a 45-minute commute each way. Meeting virtually allowed them to use those 90 minutes for something other than driving. It’s also possible this client would have chosen to miss an in-person workshop because of the effort and time needed to attend.
When we meet with clients in our office, we have a large wall-mounted monitor where we bring up charts and graphs relevant to the agenda topics. The screen sharing capability of virtual meeting programs makes this easy to recreate in a virtual meeting. It’s also convenient for a client to share their screen with me if they need help getting into a program or are confused about a statement or other data, when “showing” me works far better than “telling” me.
Other benefits are shorter and more frequent meetings. Without investing time to travel to the meeting, clients feel less pressure to meet for an hour to assure they “get their money’s worth” for the effort. Meetings can end naturally when they are over, whether that’s in one hour or 15 minutes.
Another significant benefit is the logistical ease of bringing other advisors (accountants, attorneys, etc.) and family members together for a meeting, without the issue of scheduling and charging for travel time.
We also find that virtual meetings do not hinder the quality of interactions with clients. This is confirmed by recent research published in September 2020 by the Financial Planning Association as “Utilizing What We Know About Tele-Mental Health in Tele-Financial Planning.” Researchers found tele-mental health comparable to face-to-face delivery while creating greater efficiency for the therapist and patient. They also found virtual financial planning meetings as effective as virtual mental health meetings. The survey confirms that financial therapists and holistic advisors don’t need to meet in person to help clients through tough emotional financial issues.
With all the benefits, there are downsides to the virtual meeting. Meghaan Lurtz of kitces.com, a past president of the Financial Therapy Association, discusses some of them in a November 11, 2020, article, “Benefits of ‘Tele-Financial Planning‘”. Virtual meetings can be hard because the majority of human communication happens non-verbally. Meeting on-line requires a “new language” and awareness. She offers some tips for making the most of virtual meetings.
Use a simple background to help participants focus on you rather than the interesting clutter in the background. Do not use a virtual background, which can leave the brain subconsciously wondering what you are hiding.
Keep microphones on for small meetings. Participants who are muted tend to be less engaged and less likely to comment or ask questions.
Remove distractions that create “Zoom fatigue,” the brain’s normal tendency to “zone out” during virtual meetings. Close or remove all programs, notifications, and devices you aren’t using for the meeting. Help your brain stay focused on the other person by selecting “speaker view” rather than “gallery view” and by hiding your self-view.
It’s harder to control other distractions, like software glitches or interruptions by pets or children. Humor and patience are helpful for these. So is the perspective to see them as reminders that even virtual meetings are all about supporting clients’ very real lives.