It’s common to get caught up in the routine of how things are done while overlooking how things should actually be done. The pandemic halted business as usual, offering within its slim silver lining an opportunity to reassess standard practices. Business travel used to be a given for many industries and entrepreneurs. However, this year, we have learned what can be done without it. And while face-to-face meetings were the standard prior to the pandemic, we have learned to connect in other ways, including, of course, the beloved Zoom.
Now that the world is opening back up, and with travel recently reopening in Saudi Arabia, we have a rare opportunity to consider what we want to bring from this past year into the future with us. While it is assuring to see certain types of travel already bouncing back, such as tourism, others may not come back with equal ferocity. In-person business meetings, for example, will return, but not within the same capacity. We all have learned that some meetings simply do not need to be in person. Similarly, we now know which meetings don’t work when virtual.
While the pandemic gave us new tools and techniques, I expect us to move forward with a hybrid of practices, drawn from our experience of what has worked and what hasn’t in the past year. It’s important to understand when face-to-face meetings are essential and when they aren’t. The same goes for virtual meetings, which are not always essential and can, at times, get in the way.
While hopping on a virtual meeting seems more efficient with less overhead, there are times when a great deal can be lost. For instance, there is an exchange of energy that can only happen in person, and it is far more difficult to gauge the unspoken virtually. The subtle nuances of in-person meetings can guide you to decisions and connections you may have missed over a virtual meeting. It’s also easier to remain engaged when face-to-face and to pick up on the entirety of someone’s personality and how he or she operates.
A lot of time can also be wasted with a virtual meeting. Technical difficulties and distractions from multiple environments pull focus from the intention at hand. Attention spans are far more limited, split between a person’s immediate reality and a virtual one. So, while I think Zoom is a highly useful tool that we will be bringing with us into the near future, I will most likely still be pushing for in-person meetings whenever it makes sense and especially when getting to know a person is part of the job.
Over the course of a year and countless Zoom calls, we’ve all gotten better at honing in on what works and what doesn’t. A key takeaway that has helped my virtual meetings feel more connected and more efficient is the importance of being prepared. Those awkward moments during any meeting become far more awkward when virtual. Being prepared includes figuring out your background and sound situation well in advance. I would also suggest that if you do not have a good background or do not appear professional at that moment, it is best to leave your video off.
While it can come across as rude to have video off when others have put time into a meeting, no video is still preferred over a badly lit or shaky video, or even a background with a lot of distraction or aspects that are out of your control. Even better, address if there will be video or no video prior to your meeting. Consider what components will help you focus on your constituents and the goals at hand.
I would also point out that when you open yourself up to a meeting with no video, you open your schedule up as well. And as travel increases, the no video option becomes more appealing for making the most out of moments of transit.
Regardless, I think it has become clear that while the pandemic has affected all our lives in staggering ways for over a year, human nature runs deeper. Change will stem from structural adjustments driven by economic shifts and not human behavior. Connection is part of the human experience and the key to our survival. And it is good to be back.
• Carla DiBello is a documentarian and founder and CEO of CDB Advisory, a bespoke consulting firm that bridges connections across private sectors throughout the Middle East and North America. Twitter: @CarlaDiBello