This week was the week I had my first in-person meeting. It was a prospect that generated both excited anticipation and a feeling of slight nervousness. It had been 15months after all.

The day arrived and a few things were indeed a surprise. In particular it was how quickly I fell into the same routine from before.

Signs of life

Yes, we were wearing masks, but if you got distracted it was all too easy to forget, almost as if the last year had not happened…. if this is the case more generally, once the brakes come off it is likely many things will bounce back quite quickly I think.

Yet the signs were still there, yes lots of traffic on the road, but few people on buses, in the streets or in the office. Regular retail chains open, with the omnipresence of plexiglass for employee safety, but many smaller restaurants, including a couple of good ones I used to frequent, closed and by the look inside not coming back…. there will still be impacts, especially in some specific sectors.

Shared experiences

In the office, there was clearly comradery amongst those that have been coming in over tall his time. Adversity often results in bringing people closer together and it seemed particularly the case for those in during the first lockdown. Everyone talked of it. It was clearly a strange time when nothing moved and they were all working in an empty city, quite different from later lockdowns… undoubtedly a shared experience and one we will all remember in our own ways too.

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Workwise, there is no doubt that in-person meetings do have their benefits. It is an avalanche of non-verbal information, that in our process-driven world we can forget about. As human beings, it is something we have been built to process. In some ways it was like moving from black and white to full colour again.

However, as great as this was, a live in-person conversation obviously commands all your attention and takes time.

Nothing wrong with this, but there was less efficiency moving between meetings and a greater likelihood the meeting would be longer and/or overrun. We have got used to 30min focused meetings… they are going to be difficult to sustain, and I think will likely disappear again as we move to in-person again… it is just too hard but it will impact productivity.

Time for lunch

So I was thinking about the best analogy to help illustrate this whole experience. As usual, it seemed to gravitate towards food… but, returning to the office was like lunch.

Remote working is like having lunch at home. It is quick, easy, efficient, you can grab something quick (a cuppa soup or from the fridge), and move on with your day. The choice is more limited, but it’s cost-effective and can control what you consume. You can even eat at your desk to multitask and get some emails done while you ‘take a break’.

Working back in the office is like going to a restaurant. A pleasant environment, social, with great smells and sounds of sizzling food. The choice is wide, sometimes overwhelming and it can be hard to choose, falling into the same routines with the same people – Chicken Jalfrezi, please!. Dishes are tasty, but not necessarily healthy. It is a great experience, but not necessarily efficient nor less cost-effective, especially every day.

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It is not one size fits all

Just like eating out, meeting in person, in the office is a rich, full colour rewarding experience. It is however less efficient, time-consuming, and more expensive than doing the same, for some tasks, remotely.

In some situations, it does have a unique advantage. Building relationships, understanding each other as people, is information that is harder to glean in other ways. But, the value of this reduces over time and if you need to be transactional, just get stuff done it soaks up the time you need elsewhere.

And herein lies our choice…. it is probably no one or the other, but a blend, based on the intended purpose and the situation itself. It will evolve… but likely mainly remote for efficiency, but with some special days in the office when needed…. it is not one size fits all, but will depend on the role, job, situation, and need… on-site, in the office team building, here we come!

All in all, an interesting week.

A couple of other stories this week too

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