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Leadership Lessons From Corona: #4

October 29, 2020 by Twan van de Kerkhof

I interviewed 22 leaders about their leadership lessons during and beyond Covid-19. I summarized 7 key insights from these interviews. The fourth one is: online meetings work, but physical meetings remain vital.

Online meetings are as effective and efficient as physical meetings, if not better, for making the decisions that are required to keep daily operations going. In that sense, this has been a hypothesis-busting crisis: everything we thought wouldn’t work has turned out to work after all. Online meetings can save a lot of time, and as such, they are here to stay.

The upside of online meetings in which people participate from home is that the participants get to know each other in ways they didn’t before, for example by getting acquainted with each other’s children, spouses and pets. Online meetings also allow for more frequent interactions with stakeholders, such as shareholders and suppliers.

Online meetings are less effective, however, for brainstorming, wicked problems, fuzzy topics, getting newly acquainted, getting a feel for people or topics, arranging matters informally, social interaction, and unstructured conversations.

An online environment also makes it more difficult for CEOs to get unfiltered information about what is really happening in the organization. Top leaders always have to work hard to get the real information because people tweak their messages towards what they think their superiors want to hear. Before corona, leaders used informal, physical meetings to get the full picture. These in-person meetings will never be fully replaced by online meetings nor by gathering additional data.

People are social beings that crave human interaction. A lack of personal contact might result in feelings of emptiness. People want atmosphere, smell, handshakes, hugs, and bonding over dinner. Physical meetings will remain a vital part of doing business for non-formal, non-content interactions, such as: picking up weak signals, a visceral experience, going beyond prepared presentations, getting a feel of what is really happening, sharing humour and just being human in the workplace.

International business travel will therefore remain important, but it will become less frequent, also considering the carbon footprint of travel.