You can’t shake hands in cyberspace

You’re expecting another, “back in the days before COVID-19” reminiscing post. Too bad. This topic came to me years ago. You know, BC…Before Coronavirus. Yes, that time really did exist. It’s not just a dream.

Why mention the time frame?

Because it helps you understand that some of today’s challenges aren’t new. For many, remote work is our normal. In fact, getting to meet people IRL (in real life) was a special treat! In case it’s not obvious, the “our” here is me. I work remotely.

Take a look at some of my event posts to feel the excitement of being around other people. Yes, even for this introvert.

What’s Changed?

Ha! What hasn’t changed? Amirite? There’s no minimizing the enormous impact that-virus-which-shall-not-be-named has on society and business. Many, if not all of us, had to adapt to rapidly-changing norms and precautions.

When in-person became “no way”, those who could and weren’t already took shelter online. You joined us on Zoom, a platform we’ve been accustomed to for years. It’s like we’re innovators. Ok, not the way to blaze new paths. You’re welcome here as long as you need.

What Hasn’t Changed?

People want to interact with other people.

In fact, maybe that’s changed too, because in our physical isolation, the desire to connect is even higher. Either way, for some things, there’s no replacement for an in-person experience.

At the same time, the concepts of digital transformation charge onward. Sure, it meant moving faster than you ever thought possible, but you did that because you’re awesome. Now, it’s time to think about the why. “Why did we need to implement these digital solutions?”

Yes, an unprecedented global event happened. I suppose we can’t really ignore it. At the same time, it forced an acceptance of where things are moving. Tasks which can be made easier and more convenient by using an app or website … should.

This is a golden time to look at what parts of your operation should be driven by human interactions and which can improve with digital ones. Naturally, there will be overlap, but that awareness can help guide your planning strategy, no matter what crazy events transpire.

Digital transformation doesn’t mean making everything digital. It means evolving to provide the best service, experience, and human connection with the right tools in the right ways. At your core, you’re a bunch of people working to help lots more people.

How to Adapt?

To be honest, the hardest part is the human element. Sharing data or other forms of information (interactive charts, whiteboard, etc.) is actually easiest on a platform like Zoom. Cue that time your whole team struggled to load a file off a USB drive for the meeting.

Digital stuff works great on these services. Cloud-based sharing makes secure and simple transfers possible. No more wondering if that computer’s USB ports are disabled, or if this browser is allowed to load Dropbox. Or if your emails went to spam.

Where we struggle most, and I bet you also, are the casual interactions. For all the love I have for great Zoom happy hours, you know it’s not the same as actually meeting up. As of now, no tech can replace that experience (I’m looking at you, future Apple AR Glasses).

There’s real value to meeting in person, even if we’re wearing masks. Since that’s not a feasible or potentially safe option for many people, here’s some suggestions on comfortably embracing video chat (with qualifications):

  • Help equip your team with good cameras, lighting, and mounts/stands for their cameras (Trust me, being well-angled and lit makes such a difference both for you and other’s confidence)
  • Recognize that you can’t look people in the eye while looking them in the eye (even if it looks that way)
  • Make it ok to mute or turn off video during conversations. It’s like casually looking away in-person; not a bad thing. If someone stares you in the eyes constantly in-person, it’s uncomfortable.
  • Don’t force video chats to be “casual”. It feels weird. Empower your team to set up one-on-one or group conversations in the same vein as they would just meet up in the kitchen or hallway. Business meetings match your culture now as before.
  • Of course, also … use it like kids in remote schooling; to let your team express themselves and show off (if they want) part of what makes them happy. (Every kid wants to share their toys, bedroom, and walk the class through their house.)
  • Sometimes, audio is enough. Just because you can use video doesn’t mean you must. Recognize the potential for personal intrusion it has over audio-only.

The bottom line on keeping team engagement going is to help it be as close to organic as it would be in an office. And you can carry this over to members as well!

For member interactions which previously happened in-person, provide the option for them to use a video chat. Offer a simple video guide on your app or website to get them going. Sure, this is a rip-off of your ITM video tellers, but members don’t have to go somewhere.

See? That you already have or are considering them means you’re on your digital transformation journey! We’ll make it all as good as in-person, you just watch!

Except for that shaking hands thing.

Joe Winn

Joe Winn

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