With ever increasing access to technology, we have become more and more independent, especially in the way that we work. We are no longer required to punch in and out of a brick and mortar building in order to collaborate with co-workers. Gone are the days of productivity occurring behind a desk alone. Email, cloud based databases, and a multitude of other telecommunication systems have redefined workspace. As barriers and confines continue to disappear, a mobile and independent workforce emerges. Connected to laptops and mobile phones, we are no longer restrained by physical meeting space, and can operate efficiently without dependence on regular contact with others. And we’re better for it. Or are we?
At Odyssey, we are constantly asked about the value of an “all hands meeting” when the business information could just as easily be shared remotely. Likewise, we regularly field the question of whether including a “team building” element in the schedule is important when the impact of team building is impossible to measure. The answer is clear to us – the “information” is important, but it is not the most significant part of the face-to-face meeting. However, bean counters and executives cram three-day meetings with a surplus of informational presentations and ceaseless PowerPoints. Meanwhile, participants send text messages, catch-up on email, post to Facebook, and even pass notes to each other to pass the time. They suffer the meeting and hold out for the evening entertainment like a kid in church who has been promised a doughnut after the service.
Taking the time and money to put people in a room together feeds a part of us that cannot be rationalized by simply looking at costs and efficiency charts. It requires a closer look into the sociology of the human being. The evidence leads to the conclusion that the most important reason to put people in a room together is to connect them as a team and as people, and create a positive emotional memory of the company, team, or leadership. It might not be cost or time efficient, because frankly, relationships are never going to be efficient. But it is immeasurably valuable. The power of Facebook is built on our need to connect, or at least have the feeling of connection, but it will never completely satisfy us.
We can watch any movie we want in the comfort of our own home with blue ray, surround sound, and all the snacks we could want. Yet, while on a business trip in Boston a few weeks ago, I went on an evening stroll and came upon close to 3,000 people watching The Lego Movie in the park. Sitting on the ground, not on a couch, and with less than top of the line video and sound quality. We have a need to be a part of a community, and a deep desire for connection that requires old fashion human contact. No matter how well Skype, FaceTime, GoToMeeting and other technology solutions are able to connect us remotely, we will only be at our very best when our mind, heart and gut feel connected and engaged to the community, and we are reminded that we are a valuable part of it all.
- Lain Hensley