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I recently read How Intimate Are You on one of my favorite blogs which got me thinking about distance between me in Santa Barbara and my customers / partners located throughout the world. Plus, I have been travelling lately.
There is so much technology these days that reduce the need for travel to visit with colleagues, customers, and partners. GoToMeeting, Lync, Join.me, the list goes on forever. They are pretty cheap solutions, in some cases even free, and they work pretty darn well as long as you have a solid internet connection.
For a long time, I was a firm believer that these technologies work. I’ve been using them for many years talking to folks all over the world and conducting business effectively, or so I thought.
Over the past year, I’ve done a fair bit of travelling, and even if I remove all the conferences I’ve attended, there is no comparison between the dealings in virtual meetings to the type of interactions, conversation depth and relationship building one can achieve in a face-to-face meeting. I have been so much more productive by incorporating travel into my routine of interacting with partners and customers. Being able to white board solutions and talk dynamically about problems and ways to overcome them is invaluable. Critical too is the ability to focus on the one thing you’re meeting about rather than being distracted at your desk by people walking by, interrupting you on Skype while you’re juggling between the current meeting and responding to an urgent email that just came into your box (it’s rather hard to multi-task in a room where you’re seated across from a customer / partner who is speaking directly to you…I’ve tried it, and failed miserably). Finally, being able to go out for lunch or happy hour after a long day of meetings to unwind and get to know each other on a personal level fosters a relationship that enables the work to just get done. Inherently, you develop trust and mutual respect for one another.
Now, I’m not saying I’ll always travel and never use virtual meeting tools ever again. But I will certainly think twice about limiting my options to only virtual meeting tools, regardless of expense or budgetary constraints.