We are extremely fortunate to be living and working in 2021 – a point in history when video conferencing technology, e-mail communication, texting and social media platforms are readily available to provide modern, adaptable companies with the tools to conduct business from home while remaining viable during a global pandemic. While we should all be grateful for the availability of these advanced technologies during these perilous times, we should also recognize how much we have lost in terms of in-person communication and how important it is to safely, and quickly, return to face-to-face business and in-person social interactions.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century global event that has caused incalculable amounts of harm and disruption to our lives, businesses and institutions. However, it’s important to put this event in a broader context, and to recognize that at no point in recorded human history when we were better prepared to deal with the disruptive effects of a global pandemic than we are now.
When state governments began implementing stay-at-home orders in March 2020, many businesses and organizations were forced to switch to remote work, utilizing available video conferencing technologies to engage with employees and continue to service customers and clients.
For the most part, businesses with experience utilizing video conferencing technology as a part of their normal course of business had an easier time transitioning to an all-remote workforce versus businesses that had not. While aspects of this transition may have been difficult for some companies, most were able to transition successfully enough to stay in operation during the economic uncertainties brought about by this international health crisis.
In a way, virtual conferencing technology can be credited for keeping entire industry sectors financially viable and operating during months of government-imposed lockdowns. In my personal experience as a lobbyist, I was able to continue to serve clients by interacting with elected officials at public hearings and events held as virtual conferences. While it was no substitute for in-person meetings and interactions, this virtual meeting technology helped keep the wheels of government turning throughout the pandemic.
In some ways, the lack of in-personal interactions with legislators and elected officials has forced me to improve my communication skills. When interacting with clients and stakeholders through video, I find myself having to be more precise with my language and more aware of time limitations. I’ve been forced to replace my casual, conversational approach to these interactions with a more direct, straight-to-the-point strategy, recognizing that these meetings have time limitations and are less conducive to unstructured friendly banter.
The ease and convenience of virtual meetings and digital communication has made this type of communication technology essential for most modern businesses now, and far into the foreseeable future. As convenient and cost-effective as virtual meetings are, and despite some positive personal developments achieved from utilizing this technology, they are not a permanent wholesale substitution for good, old fashioned, in-person meetings, business trips and caffeinated brainstorming sessions around a big conference table with colleagues. Proposals sent via E-mail as a PDF are not permanent substitutions for live, in-person pitches. Virtual networking events, regardless of how advanced the technology may be, will never be a substitute for making small talk with a business colleague over a drink at a networking event.
According to a May 2021 New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce survey of its members, about two-thirds of business executives said they are ready to immediately attend in-person business networking events. Exactly 66% of respondents said they would consider attending an in-person business networking event now. Meanwhile, 22% said they would consider attending such an event two to three months from now. The remaining 12% said they needed more time.
This type of support to a return to in-person business activities isn’t surprising. The benefits of such interactions are well established. Engaging clients and colleagues in-person tends to lead to clearer communication (reading body language and social cues), results in fewer workflow interruptions, encourages a deeper level of interpersonal trust, produces more attentive participants, and helps to foster stronger working relationships with colleagues and clients.
While virtual communication has served New Jersey’s business community well during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a return to in-person communication and interactions will help us to return to a somewhat normal-looking, efficient and productive workplace environment.
Along with thousands of professionals across the state of New Jersey, I could not be more excited about my plan to return to in-person business activities. I look forward to meeting with clients again in-person, stopping by my colleagues offices to chat unannounced, chatting up prospective clients at networking events, and enjoying those beautiful social interactions that add to the overall enjoyment of a productive business environment.
Tim White is a Senior Vice President with River Crossing Strategy Group (RCSG), a full-service, Trenton-based government affairs firm. Tim is well-known for his work on real estate development projects, public utilities, tech industry and legal cannabis regulatory affairs. Tim can be reached at email@example.com or (201) 921-5807. For information, feel free to visit https://rivercrossingsg.com/ .