“Getting Back Out There”

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I have to admit, I’m going stir crazy. My days are filled with back to back Zoom, Team, Skype meetings. I’m “connecting” with people, perhaps more than before.

But I’m longing to jump on a plane and go to a face to face meeting. There’s something about physical presence that virtual meetings cannot replace, at least yet. There’s something about the “action,” or perception of action that accompanies F2F meetings.

But I’m not going to jump on a plane or go to a physical meeting for some time. It’s a number of issues, first and foremost is safety–both mine and the people I meet with. Usually when I go to a meeting, people have to fly from different places to participate. So while we might be “safe” in the meeting, the process of going to and returning from the meeting puts them and me at higher levels of risk (airports, planes, hotels, restaurants, Uber cars, ……. there are too many diverse exposures).

Even if I do choose to jump on a plane, my clients may not want to see me–at least in person. The reality, as discussed by my friends Maria Boulden and Brent Adamson, is F2F meetings will be driven by the party with the lowest risk tolerance. However, strongly I may want a meeting, if the people I want to meet with don’t want that risk, we won’t have a F2F meetings.

We are, also, learning. Too many of our F2F meetings weren’t as productive as they could have been, particularly when you looked at travel time as part of the “cost” of a meeting. We are actually being far more productive and purposeful in our virtual meetings. (Truth be told, I actually discovered this many years ago, actually at least 50% of my client conversations were virtual–partly because I needed conversations with people around the world, despite where I might have physically been at the moment, second was I utilized my time better, third was the expense–either to my client or those that I had to pick up.)

We are learning how to leverage these technologies and virtual meetings more impactfully, and the technology will advance to help us be more productive. So when it becomes more acceptable to travel, or even work from the office, we will be more purposeful in how we use our time.

There are still somethings I miss and am trying to figure out how to accomplish in a different way.

  • There is so much that occurs at the “fringes” of our meetings. The informal chit chat, before/after or at breaks.
  • Reading the “room,” “body language.” 70% of communication is not about what we say. There are so many subtle (and not so subtle) signals we get, if we are paying attention, in the F2F meeting. While video helps a little, it still is difficult to capture the body language/room language.
  • The ancillary conversations with other people you encounter outside the meeting.
  • The “Starbucks line” chatter–in the old days, we called that water cooler conversations. So much happens in those, I find them a great mechanism for coaching conversations.
  • The learning you get from just watching people and their interactions–whether at the meeting, at the customer location, or in the airports, airplanes, restaurants enroute. There is a huge amount of informal learning one gets from just being observant. Often, just by watching what’s going on at your customer, you get a lot of insight about how they work, what you might do.
  • I haven’t been a big conference attendee, but there are about 3-5 I attend religiously. Many are substituting webcasts for the sessions, but at least 50% of the value I get from conferences is outside the formal sessions, in the informal conversations with attendees.

I’m starting to discover some work-arounds to these limitations. Last Friday, a colleague texted me, “Want to jump on a Webex? A bunch of us are BSing and exploring this topic…” It was fantastic, it was a virtual meeting, but with a very loose/no agenda, just to share ideas and friendship.

I’m, also, scheduling lots more “checkpoint calls.” These don’t have a big agenda, usually one key item, but the rest is just informal business and non business conversation. I have always used these, I’m just finding more people using them to checkpoint with me.

We are all learning, we have so much new to learn about how to communicate, do things, and get things done. The good news about the pandemic is that it has forced us to think and act differently.

We will travel and meet again, but it will be very different, and we will be leveraging more tools and methods (not all F2F) to improve our impact.

While things are changing profoundly, and I suspect for the better, I can’t wait to get back out there again!

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