Virtual Teams

Face-to-face in Canary Wharf

Canary wharf visit

I ran a matrix management training program in Canary Wharf in London this week. it was great to be back face to face in a training room and to experience the energy of the group and the discussions we generated.

I’m a big lover of skyscrapers in general and Canary Wharf in particular. Areas like this normally give a great sense of energy and bustle. At the moment of course it doesn’t feel like this, most people are not yet back in their offices and it looks like many may never return full time.

The old joke is when someone asks “how many people work in this building” the answer was usually “about half of them”.

I was there on a Wednesday which is probably peak traffic. Mondays and Fridays are even quieter.

Although I enjoyed the session and the opportunity to go out for dinner afterwards with a colleague, the six hours travel there and back were less entertaining.

Having shown that we can do most of our work remotely there is going to be a big barrier to entry to getting together, and also a big demand to reconnect.

In my corporate career I used to travel a lot, averaging three countries a week in my last corporate role, but it wasn’t my money (though it was my time).

In Global Integration we’ve been remote first for over 30 years. When our global team does get together it means taking people out of the market, bringing them together and putting them in hotels. A face-to-face meeting usually costs more than $100,000.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked to spend $100,000 of your own money to attend a meeting, but it does concentrate the mind wonderfully.

We do choose to meet face-to-face, just once or twice a year, but we spent a lot of time thinking about what it’s worth spending this extremely valuable and scarce time on.

For decades we asked people two questions

  • was this meeting a good use of your time
  • what would make it better

We discovered we could do nearly all of the work-based things remotely and often through asynchronous working.

We learned to focus on the things that you can’t easily do remotely. We summarised these in the word community – we have fun together, talk about common issues (usually in small groups) and provide unstructured time for people to catch up.

I appreciate that, in a traditional corporation, it’s hard to get the budget to fly people together to goof off and catch up, but it really is the most valuable use of your face-to-face time.

When I ask people at large company events what they value about them they rarely say the PowerPoint presentations. What they enjoy is the networking, the learning and the opportunity to have informal discussions with people to solve problems.

As we start to have the opportunity to get people back together, please avoid the temptation to stuff the agenda full of content, that’s not what people have been missing.

If we do ask people to come to the office, lets make sure they enjoy the experience and do not commute just to answer emails and attend virtual meetings they could have better managed from home. Expect to be asked “was this a good use of our time?”

Face-to-face time is a scarce resource, invest it in the things that you can’t do another way.

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