A full-time online world works, much better than many leaders had anticipated. Online meetings have proven to be effective and efficient for making the decisions that are required to keep daily operations going. Participants are well prepared, they are focused, meetings start and end on time, speaking times are limited. That is the first positive.
Next to this efficiency, online meetings have four unforeseen positive consequences. The first is that 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. It makes the working experience more human, some say even more authentic; people are showing up more real, open and accessible than before. They are trying to be emotionally close while being physically apart. The second is that leaders get more information than before. On the one hand, because they speak to employees outside of headquarters online more frequently than they visited them in person before. On the other hand, because for some staff it is easier to be frank and speak their mind from the safety of their homes than making an appointment with the CEO’s secretary, walking through that long corridor, entering that big room and taking a seat at that massive desk. The third is that meetings in global companies that were earlier done by phone are now done on camera. That makes them better and more interactive. The fourth is more clarity as a consequence of a higher frequency of meetings; teams meet more often, but shorter. Information is shared more within the team and less in informal one-on-ones, which reduces the noise on the line. It has become easier to attend meetings and the threshold to participate actively has been lowered.
Online meetings are here to stay, if only to reduce commuting time and avoid traffic jams. A hybrid model is emerging between meeting online and meeting in person. Meeting online works fine to make decisions, meeting in person is better for complex issues or innovation, for which deeper personal interaction is required.
Online will also reduce international business travel significantly. That is the sixth positive. Business leaders didn’t think long before flying intercontinental for a single business meeting. That will change. They can travel maybe half as much and still be as effective. Long-distance travel will be less frequent and more extended, staying longer at the destination, combining meetings, informal gatherings and visits to office or manufacturing sites. Leaders are taking the carbon footprint of travel into account, sometimes urged by their Millennial children.
This is the sixth leadership lesson drawn from 36 interviews about leadership during and beyond corona. Send us a message if you wish to receive the paper with all eight lessons.