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Is the Future Virtual?

Today, the global consulting company McKinsey published an compelling article called "Re-imagining the postpandemic workforce".


Their conclusion - if your business is not 100% virtual, it needs some 1:1, face to face time to nurture the business.


I have seen this first hand. Now after months of Covid, so have you.


We have attended these meetings that are a mixture of people together in the same room and people remote. Remote people cannot see the nuances, lose the conversation thread when there are outbursts of laughter or people talking all at once. People in the room seem to forget at times there are people on a call or video. The result - poorer quality experience and outcomes.


In the article experiences are shared from the military, where leaders physically show up, even when they have other choices? Why?


The power of presence.


Since March of 2020 all my speaking and teaching engagements have been virtual. While I have a lot of experience in the video presenting / teaching medium, I learned a lot about why these leaders insist on face to face meetings.


First, per hour, it takes WAY more energy to create a high energy engaging experience when you do it virtually. Like actors before a camera, it takes more to create more of an experience for the viewer.


Why? 2 dimensional feedback. In a room you see, feel, sense the audience. Actors talk about it all the time. So do athletes. This is one of the common concerns as pro sports return - the impact of no audience and how it will affect their performance.


Second, presence is 'felt' not just 'observed'. Executives and leaders train how to cultivate and exude presence. One of the better approaches on this is Sally Hogshead and the "Fascinate" approach. Yes you can elevate your presence online with great effect. I have personally.


Yet time and again people talk about the experience of being IN the presence of someone. How seeing your favourite band is always better that watching a video of them play, even live.


Third, presence is reciprocal. When leaders go out into the workforce it often is as much about experiencing the presence of staff they meet, as their experiencing the presence of the leader.


Humans are innately social. Even when they experience social interactions virtually there is a longing for the personal experience. To know what it is like to be in the presence of each other.


Implications


In the short term we all need to step up our presence when on virtual meetings. It takes being genuine, staying engaged, turning off distractions, keeping the meeting short.


In the medium term, some face to face time will return. At least domestically this may include some travel, though for smaller numbers of people. To cultivate a culture we need some time in the presence of each other.


For the longer term, well, hoping the pandemic actually passes and we reach a new normal with acceptable risk. When that happens, even with companies that are largely virtual, we can be in each others presence again and more often.


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