Is It Really a Brave New (Virtual) World?
Pssst--can we talk? I've got mixed feelings about returning to "reality." I mean, is it really all it's cracked up to be?
I've had some good experiences with this brave new virtual world, and it's changed my business model. In fact, in my CEO Roundtable we've talked a lot about how the emerging "new normal" after the pandemic will (and should) change all our business models.
For example, we figure that if we don't fully leverage new virtual tools like video conferencing (Zoom, Teams, etc.) then our competitors certainly will. Business is about building relationships, and while video conferencing isn't always the best tool for this (e.g., search "Zoom fatigue"), there are times when it makes all the sense in the world.
Here's how I grade my experiences with video conferencing so far:
Networking "coffee meetings": A
I love the half-hour, get acquainted, virtual coffee meeting! What used to take half a day (put on business clothes, drive somewhere mutually convenient, spend at least an hour whether you want to or not so you're not rude, drive back, get back into your comfortable clothes) now takes half an hour. In a half hour I can tell whether I want to put more energy into building a win-win relationship with a person or not. Can't you? I can arrange an in-person meeting later if it makes sense.
Hiring interviews: A-
To complete a final-vetting interview for potential C-level hires, we used to fly them into the airport here in Atlanta, rent a meeting room in the Delta Crowne Room or ask them to take MARTA to Buckhead, conduct the interview, and then fly them home. The time and money spent were huge compared to a virtual interview. While admittedly you can lose some body language cues when you're not in the same room, the drop off in valuable predictive validity (whether they will succeed in the role) isn't enough to rationalize going back to the old way.
Training/soft marketing meetings: B
While training/soft marketing meetings scheduled around a meal can create kismet opportunities for building relationships, the time and money required are considerable. A virtual presentation makes it possible for more people to fit the meeting into their busy schedules without a major time commitment. At the extreme I attended a virtual 2-day training event with people from all over the world that saved me travel expenses to New York. While maintaining engagement was more difficult, I'll take the trade off. You can follow up with the folks who attend to build a closer relationship later.
Mastermind and networking group meetings: B
Doing these meetings virtually require less time and money, especially travel time and expenses. My CEO Roundtable includes people from out of town, and they love not having to drive to Atlanta every month! We're working on a hybrid model so we get to be together in person occasionally because we believe there's enough value in it to make the effort.
Strategic planning meetings: A to D (shorter to longer)
This is one instance where I've had a mixed bag. A virtual 2-hour strategic update meeting with a small team can go very well. A similar 4-hour meeting with a larger, geographically dispersed team proved to be challenging in terms of maintaining engagement, even with hourly breaks. The general level of functioning of the team has a lot to do with this. Higher functioning teams (less ambiguity in goals and roles, less conflict) do better with virtual than lower functioning teams.
Celebrate modern technology and the many new tools it provides us in business, and be sure you’re leveraging it well--your competitors most certainly will.
Remember that business success is about building relationships, so be clear about the relationships you need and what tools are best to create them.
Balance is important in most things. To avoid “Zoom fatigue” and create a sustainable approach, strike a good balance between virtual and in-person communication and relationship building.