The 2020 global pandemic has given us all pause for thought in our various walks of life: but when does the future hold for the much-valued “face time” that is historically hailed as key for maintaining and nurturing client relationships? Victoria McWade ponders this question below…
Before March 2020 (the month when the World took a pause, adjusted, then set back in motion with all its modifications), my life as a Research Director took me around the globe. My mind was always whirring with not only project tasks and client discussions, but the plans and logistics of my diary: all the requisite travel planning to make sure I could attend the right meetings in the right locations, in the right time zone, with the right currency…
When the pandemic hit, and as we continue to navigate through this changing world, we have learned a lot about how we live our lives both personally and at work. Other members of our team have written some great blogs and there will be more, on this topic to come – how we have dealt with and adjusted to a new situation as individuals, as a company, as an industry, as parents, etc.
We have been fortunate; our industry has continued while many others have struggled. We were able to adapt nimbly and move fieldwork from in-person central locations days to virtual session; move project kick-off meetings and debriefs online; and even shift networking and introductory meetings with our clients to Microsoft Teams or Zoom with relative ease – all with pretty much with immediate effect and minimal consequence.
Reflecting on our professional relationships with our clients has been of particular interest to me. We are very passionate about keeping close to our customers’ priorities and business needs, and that has historically been through face to face interactions in the main. An introductory meeting, a kick-off meeting, a debrief, a general catch-up – really all very much preferred as face to face as we develop connections and relationships.
So, what has the impact of international lock-down been upon on our ability to connect and create optimal business partnerships? Can we say that relationships don’t suffer because we have not been on planes travelling to offices in-person? Can new relationships be established despite lack of personal interaction? I’m a firm believer that the answer to these questions is yes!
Since March, we have continued to work closely with our clients to deliver great insight on their projects, working closely (albeit remotely) with them to drive the best results. We have established successful new contacts starting with initial introductory meetings through to RFPs and then projects. Can we say that the relationship established this way is any less workable than that if we had met in person? I’m quite sure we cannot.
I believe what is making a huge difference to our ability to make human connections in the remote world is the use of video. Previously ashamed of what we were wearing, our backgrounds, our noisy family etc. we now recognise we are all just humans with a job and a home life. We’ve had a glimpse into the personal lives of our colleagues but also our clients and they into ours with a virtual world, affording us with an understanding and acceptance of personal circumstances as part of our working lives. The work/life balance we’ve talked about for so many years has truly been thrown together. I think we have all been forced to soften a little around our business edges. Dare I say we are perhaps even more connected than through a more formal face to face meeting at a formal office setting.
Perhaps the bigger noticeable effect on me personally has been the removal of travel time – to anywhere – even my 15-minute walking commute to the office let alone a one-day trip to Basel that meant an alarm was set at 4am. Without this, the fatigue is greatly lessened and the time to commit to achieving tasks is greater since diaries aren’t blocked out with ‘travel time’.
I wonder what happens now? We hear lots of discussion about not wanting to go back to exactly the “way it was”, but what is the “new way” going to look like as we start to step outside our homes and even back into our offices (sanitised up to our elbows)? How will our future client relationships evolve, I wonder? Is it enough to keep a distance, or will there always be a place for sitting down in a physical room together to have a discussion?
The change to universal remote working happened over night but the switch to frequent business travel will not be turned back on so quickly. We look forward to what the new business world looks like, adapting to business needs and expectations. But for now at least, we’ll keep seeing you in the virtual office…
By Victoria McWade