Virtual working can damage business and people, especially introverts. There I’ve said it, despite being a big fan of remote working. I raise it not to say we should all be back in the office 24//7, but as we need to consider answers to the issue.
The UK chancellor of the exchequer recently said people (especially young people) will miss out if they don’t return to the office (BBC news, 3/8/21). The cynical part of me initially saw this as a governmental drive to prevent remote working and force everybody back into the office ‘after’ the pandemic (again).
However, his underlying point was that people will miss out on relationships which only develop as effectively if you meet people. He said “I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom“. I think he’s right, on that point, what’s more I think he is especially correct for introverts. The small moments of informal contact, “water cooler chats” and even shorter conversations are essential.
I say that despite being a strong believer in the benefits (especially to introverts) of hybrid and home working. I’ve been home working since 1989, with a 6 year break in the middle.
18 months of virtual networking
Networking is all about relationships. Many small business owners visit networking events to develop business relationships and sales. Some people are more effective networkers than others and it’s not explained by an introvert/ extrovert difference. “Ninja Networking” shows how introverts can be very good at networking.
When the pandemic began there was a choice; stop going to networking events or learn virtual networking for introverts. After 18 months of virtual networking I believe in virtual events, but must be honest enough to say I don’t find them as rewarding. This is similar to 65% of small business owners I’ve asked, even those who enjoy the benefits of virtual events.
What’s going wrong, why are virtual events not as beneficial? A large part of the issue is that relationships don’t develop as effectively, as off the cuff conversations don’t happen, backing into Sunak’s statement.
Asking more questions revealed that:
- Most extroverts prefer networking face to face, as they miss meeting people (or as some cynics suggested, dominating the room).
- Most introverts found virtual meetings easier than face to face.
- Most introverts were able to deepen relationships with people they already knew.
- Many introverts found the quality of new relationships lower than when they used to meet face to face.
I don’t find virtual networking as fulfilling or effective at getting to know people (and I’m not brilliant at the in normal times). How about you and how would you change that?
My MBA – online versus offline working
Many years ago, before virtual events were a common occurrence, one of the first pieces of work I did for my MBA was to write on the effectiveness of online versus offline working and relationships.
The main conclusion (in the 90’s before we spoke of “hybrid working” and zoom didn’t exist), was that if a team knew each other they could work well together using phone meetings and/ or asynchronous communication, and this could benefit the quieter team members. However, this was only valid for a team that already knew each other. In other words, the relationship between them had started by meeting each other in person.
Introverts and virtual relationships
For an introvert the benefit of working at home/ not often in the office can include:
- Less distractions can be more effective thinking in detail
- More focus time,
- Not losing vital “people energy”
- Less issues trying to communicate ideas
- Better able to use introvert superpowers such as listening
However, the development of some relationships and team bonds are reduced. This means other team members won’t understand the introverts as well (and it’s often not that good when we’re all in the office) and introverts miss out on developing as many connections.
Does remote working work?
Different firms I’ve worked with and discussed this with do have different answers, although the consensus is yes remote working is effective (you might like to read 5 tips to manage working from home). So, in that sense, a corporate push (remote working is an “aberration”) to getting people back into the office full time is misguided.
However, this doesn’t take into account the longer term benefits of work relationships, personal networks, informal mentor/ mentee relationships, etc. and the trust that goes with them. For an effective longer term we (especially introverts) need to spend some time with our office colleagues.
What does this mean for you and how much time do you need to spend with colleagues?