“We live in a world that is connected 24X7, but loneliness is at an all time high. We are trying to find our way”
Elizabeth Lindsey, Explorer and Way Finder, see her 2012 TEDxWomen talk
I walked into his office with a long list of updates to cover. We realized we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and both commented on how much better it is that we could do so much virtually. The video conferences and conference calls were working quite well. It’s much more productive without all the travel. It’s a huge relief to avoid long road trips for short meetings.
And then we both realized, almost simultaneously that what we needed to talk about most was not on the list. It must have been the look in my eyes. That look would never have been noticed over a video conference. We had one of the best conversations ever, we both left with some important next steps. We both felt better. We never got to the list I had walked in with.
Somethings are just better in person.
Face Time Choices
I know this, I feel the same thing with my team. And yet of course there are tradeoffs. Time, travel costs, travel fatigue.
I was particularly stuck by Michele Cushatt’s recent post, Why Face Time (the real kind) Matters, I agree with her insights. Technology is great for keeping us connected, and it can also be abused. I find it ridiculous when people will dial into a conference call when most of the participants are sitting in the same building. As Michele says, Because there’s “something magical about being face-to-face with another living, breathing human.”
So here’s the rub.
You can’t have face time with all the people that matter at the same time.
If you travel to be with your team, you miss having dinner with your family or reading a book at bedtime or the homework frustration. Of course you can Skype or use “Face Time”.. even with a bed time story, but it’s just not the same.
If you chose to call into the meeting, you miss that important conversation that would have happened on the break. You may also miss the chance to bump into your old boss in the cafeteria who has a great new opportunity that would be just right for you. You miss the important trust that’s built by a team hanging out together.
Of course, there are lots of important approaches to maximizing remote relationships. Remote teams and employees can be very productive. I share some of this in my post, Long Distance Leadership: Can Distance Drive Engagement and Results,. After years of leading remote teams, I also know it is vital to “show up in person more than is practical.”
So, what’s the right ratio? What’s the right time? How do you know it’s time to get on a plane? How do you choose between face time and face time?
The amount of time between visits?
The stage of the relationship or team?
The personalities involved?
The current results?
Your post reminded me of the book, Choosing To Cheat by Andy Stanley. http://amzn.to/VfXe44
I have come to terms with the fact, there is no perfect solution for the situation you describe and are talking about in this post.
We can do our best, and that’s about it.
I do know this though. I’d rather ask forgiveness from the adults on my team than from my children 1,000 times more. I’d rather miss the opportunity for a great conversation with a team member than any potential great conversation with my wife. So, for us, at this point in our lives. I have a strict 3 night rule. I will not spend more than three nights away from home in an entire year without my family going with me.
Sure, I’ve probably missed some great work opportunities. But, the organization I run is still competitively leading our industry….and I’ve been here when my most valuable partner (my wife) needed me, seen the first steps of my daughter and heard my sons first giggle.
This was a great post on an important topic. Thanks for posting it.
Eric, thanks so much for sharing how you think through the wrestling match… and the parameters you set.
I’m not sure the factors that go into making a trip for face time. It’s intuition.
The world is flat, according to Thomas Friedman. Communications are instantaneous and social networking is becoming the norm for staying in touch.
I loved this quote from Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University (my alma amater), at the 2012 commencement address:
As Sherry Turkle, an M.I.T. professor who has been interviewing people about their use of social media, wrote recently: “It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.” “We are tempted,” she noted, “to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation ….Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, ‘I am thinking about you.’ Or even for saying, ‘I love you.’ But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.” There is something decidedly one-sided about how we go about connecting electronically. By contrast, in the reciprocity of real conversation, as Turkle states, “we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.”
Oh that is a great quote! I love the concept of ‘sips” versus “gulps”
Challenging post. I notice that with many transactions I now prefer email over phone. Perhaps I am avoiding potential conflict or simply seeking a record of what was talked about. It seems that for simple logistics remote is far better. However, as you wisely point out- how can we know when a relationship will be deepened by a real conversation.
marcus, you raise an interesting point…using technology can be used either to avoid or simplify.