About 11:30 AM, on March 11, 2020 my plane touched down at John Wayne Airport. On my way home, I decided, I would be locking myself down for a period or time. Actually, the State of California was deciding this for a lot of it’s citizens, but given what I was hearing about the Pandemic, I knew it was the right thing to do.
At the time, like many others, I thought this would be over after 2-3 months and I would resume my “road warrior,” lifestyle.
It’s 5 months later, both my clients, most of their customers, and I are staying in lockdown, engaging virtually. The majority of my clients are envisioning this will continue until at least the end of the year, many are anticipating it continuing for some time into 2021.
Several issues seem to be driving this. First, a genuine concern about the health and well being of their people and customers. Second, many of their customers continue to be in lockdown. As my friends Maria Boulden and Brent Adamson have said, “The most risk averse set the rules of engagement.” Third, we are beginning to recognize the profound liability exposures.
I have to admit, I’m struggling with the forced virtual engagement. Ever since I started the company, I’ve worked from my home. A lot of our natural engagement process has always been remote, whether by phone, conference call, or leveraging video based tools.
But somehow, it’s different. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it, but here are, at least some of my experiences/reactions.
- I have more activities than I normally do during the day (at least office days). It seems I am often on back to back Zoom/Teams calls. My normal “office” days, had a good number of project, conference and prospecting calls, but also a lot of research, planning, planning, and think time.
- The research, planning, think time is suffering a little. The back to back calls are, to some degree, mentally exhausting, so heavy “thinking” activities are a little tough. I find myself defaulting to “mindless” administrative tasks during the week (formerly, I did those on the weekend.)
- I’m not sure, with the exception of some strategic initiatives, I’m less productive than I was before, but I know I’m not more productive. Which is odd, because there is so much less “travel time.”
- The majority of our work, when we do face to face meetings, is facilitating problems solving, planning, strategy meetings. I’m learning that it takes more time, more calls, whether group or 1on1 to get things accomplished. There is a tremendous communication loss in virtual meetings. To make up for this, there are more group calls and more individual calls needed to accomplish what we might have accomplished in a F2F strategy meeting.
- On the other hand, our “training workshops,” have changed profoundly–mostly for the better. With pre-work assignments, recording “lectures,” we free up the Zoom calls for interactive workshops and discussions. We find we are having the same or better impact, taking less time.
- When I travel, there is a huge amount that I accomplished, “informally.” The ad hoc meetings with others at the clients I visited. The ad hoc dinner/breakfast meetings with others in the cities I was visiting. There are always the, “Dave, l need you to meet……” meetings that occurred in every trip. These increased the productivity of every trip I took.
- My actual travel time was always very productive. Most of my “deep reading,” was done on airplanes, at airports, and in the evening in hotels. Now without the travel, I’ve found my deep reading has suffered tremendously. Sure, I can read in the evenings and on weekends—and I do. But I don’t get as much time or focus as when I’m traveling. I’ve found I’m defaulting to lighter reading–blog posts, short form articles. Also, find myself distracted by TV News.
- I’m finding the absence of day to day, face to face, informal social interaction very troublesome–and research seems to be supporting the problems I’m experiencing. It’s the brief informal interactions, or even smiles at the gym, a dinner out, people watching at Starbucks, and so forth. Mostly with people I had never met, and probably will not see again. Mostly very short, trivial interactions, but human to human connection—if only for a few seconds. This “social interchange” is different from, but almost as important as the daily interactions with friends, family, colleagues, clients. (and many of these are now safely distanced conversations).
- Related to the previous point, life is about human to human interactions–the deep interactions with family, friends, colleagues, customers, and the passing interactions with everyone we encounter. I have realized how much I have taken those for granted–I’ve never been “restricted” in those before, so now I am realizing we cannot take these for granted. It is these that make us human beings. Having said this, I’ve realized I can’t be selfish about needing/wanting those interactions–at least for the time being. It is unsafe–I put myself at risk, those I interact with, those I encounter in passing. However much I want those interactions, the fastest way to do this safely is through following the distancing, masks, and related recommendations of the CDC and our health experts.
I’m learning, I’m coping. I’m figuring things out. Somehow, I’m not as fulfilled as I was 5 months and 1 day ago. But, that’s not to say that I cannot get fulfillment, I’m just learning how that’s different.
As much as I dream of sitting in an airport and hearing an announcement that my plane has been delayed, I know that won’t happen for some time — and that’s the right thing.
Having said all of this, I think this experience is good. It’s forcing me to rethink everything–I do mean everything–I do. It’s forced me to be more thoughtful, more purposeful. I cannot be unconscious or on autopilot. I can no longer take things for granted. In some sense, this is a wake up call to our purpose in life and in serving/working with others. And with all wake up calls, it is not always comfortable.
What are you learning? What’s been your experience? Would love to hear your stories.