ChangeReflectionNovember 7, 20220A Very Old Thing That Now Seems Precious

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

- Joni Mitchell, Big Yel­low Taxi

Good art cap­tures and reflects time­less truths.  I’ve always loved those lines of Joni Mitchel­l’s because they’re so uni­ver­sal­ly true: it often requires the absence of some­thing to appre­ci­ate it.

Just last week a col­league and I were facil­i­tat­ing a ses­sion with a dozen exec­u­tives from three dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies. Dur­ing a break, some of the par­tic­i­pants were talk­ing about how good it was to see each oth­er, and how much they had missed hav­ing in-per­son meet­ings dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. That led into a larg­er dis­cus­sion about how much they now appre­ci­ate being able to spend time with co-work­ers, indi­vid­u­al­ly and in groups, hav­ing not been able to do it much for a cou­ple of years — and also lament­ing hav­ing less oppor­tu­ni­ty to do it now than pre-pan­dem­ic, since most com­pa­nies are oper­at­ing in a more “hybrid” way than before.

What’s the big deal with “in person”?

I’ve heard some ver­sion of this con­ver­sa­tion many, many times over the past year, as we’re all fig­ur­ing out the bal­ance of in-per­son and vir­tu­al work post-pan­dem­ic. It does­n’t sur­prise me. We human beings have oper­at­ed almost exclu­sive­ly face-to-face with each oth­er for all but the tini­est per­cent­age of our time as a race on earth. Think about it: Homo Sapi­ens has been around for about 300,000 years. It’s only been in the past 500 years or so that lit­er­a­cy and trans­porta­tion (let­ter-writ­ing, ships and fast hors­es) made it even remote­ly pos­si­ble to do busi­ness at a dis­tance in any capac­i­ty (think: The British East India Com­pa­ny). Then, around 150 years ago, telegraphs, rail­roads and then tele­phones made it a whole order of mag­ni­tude more pos­si­ble. But still, even in those times, the vast major­i­ty of the day-to-day work need­ed to be done by peo­ple work­ing togeth­er phys­i­cal­ly in the same loca­tion. It has only been in the past 20–30 years, with inter­na­tion­al phone cov­er­age, email, broad­band access, and video­con­fer­enc­ing, that real dai­ly work at a dis­tance has become pos­si­ble. That’s one-hun­dredth of one per­cent of the time we humans have been around!  No won­der it feels so right and good for us to work togeth­er in person.

Build it in

If you’re a leader, I sug­gest you remem­ber and hon­or that. Even if your folks’ jobs are such that they don’t have to come togeth­er much in per­son for prac­ti­cal rea­sons — if their work does­n’t require phys­i­cal prox­im­i­ty with cus­tomers, or high degrees of col­lab­o­ra­tive effort with col­leagues — remem­ber that being with oth­er peo­ple is deeply wired into us in terms of what feels nor­mal and com­fort­able. It’s how we con­nect and under­stand each oth­er, it’s an impor­tant way to build trust, and it’s espe­cial­ly nec­es­sary when we’re explor­ing new ideas or fig­ur­ing out how to oper­ate in new ways. So, even if your team is pri­mar­i­ly vir­tu­al, build in times for your team to be togeth­er face-to-face, and make that time a com­bi­na­tion of fun, expan­sive think­ing, and prob­lem-solv­ing. I sus­pect that your col­leagues (even those who aren’t very peo­ple-focused) will appre­ci­ate it…and you’ll all work bet­ter and feel bet­ter as a result.

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