Restrictions are being eased, so is it time for us to get physical, asks RUSSELL DALGLEISH
So much has changed since I attended my last major event, the Civtech demo day at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in March last year. It was attended by hundreds of delegates and was one of an almost daily round of events that made up my business calendar.
Now they are on the verge of a comeback as the Covid restrictions are eased and we edge towards the “new normality”. Have we missed those physical meetings over the last 15 months? Most importantly, have we suffered or benefited from our period of isolation?
Being confined to working from a home office, my expectation was that interaction with others would reduce and that making new connections and helping others would be restricted.
In fact the opposite has been the case in that relations with existing contacts have deepened through more regular, rather than less, contact. Most surprisingly is that my network and the opportunities this delivers has increased beyond my wildest expectations. In effect I have found that it is easier to make new meaningful connections with individuals around the world through these online tools.
I, like others, must also report that my time management has improved as I am no longer at the vagaries of planes and trains to get to meetings and to perform the critical “post-meeting follow up”.
So with these benefits in mind why is it that over the last six weeks I have returned to travelling and to face-to-face meetings? Surely I am losing out on the benefits accrued through my digital life?
The answer is a simple one: I am a human being. I am designed to communicate through looking you in the eye, though picking up the myriad of inputs I get from being in the same room as you and from sharing physical experiences together.
In business, physical meetings are essential as they help develop deep trust that is at the core of how we “do business”.
I was considering this subject during a recent conversation with SBN US President Ian Houston. Ian is based in Washington, and I speak with him on an almost daily basis and have done for many, many months.
We have delivered projects together, planned and executed events and even opened up an SBN company in the US but to date we have never physically met. We agreed that as soon as transatlantic travel restrictions ease, we need to meet. The key reason is that we need to develop the strategy for SBN in the US and this creative discourse is best achieved with us in the same room.
As we move forward I would like to share a few words of advice that may stand you in good stead as you venture out.
- Do not push too hard to force yourself to get out and attend physical meetings. Try to ease into the process and thereby avoid placing your self under too much pressure.
- Watch your diary. Initially I found that I would travel to London for a couple of days and plan to mix real-world meetings with virtual to fill my day. This proved challenging both from a technical perspective and also on an emotional level as a flited between the two worlds.
- Understand that the person you are meeting with may have differing views from you on such subjects as masks. My approach has been to defer to the more conservative approach hence I always arrive at the meeting wearing a mask but if the environment accommodates its removal, I am comfortable with that approach as well. I also don’t proffer my hand but if the individual I am meeting with offers there’s I do accept.
- The quality of service and safety at train stations, airports and hotels has been exceptional. I have never found myself concerned regarding the environment and the quality of service delivered has been of the highest quality.
- Do not assume that the world you step out into today is going to be the same in a months’ time. I reckon we have a long way to travel yet until we can develop and agree upon a new business culture. Trust me, we should not assume a norm has been arrived at. Just look at travel plans to France which can change with a 48 period.
But most of all enjoy the freedom to get out and about. Remember we are human and interaction with others is how we operate and never is that truer than in the world of business.
Russell Dalgleish is co-founder and chairman of Scottish Business Network