This update has been a LONG time coming, but as with most technologists in this new "zoom world", I've stared at my computer with a relentless conference call workday (which is now somehow 14-17 hours a day).
This leads me to an interesting discussion and thought process that I've been sharing with colleagues. Let's take a journey WAY back to 2019 when the world was "normal" (whatever that means). In 2019, I flew almost 200k miles for work. I was on multiple itineraries most weeks, jetting from meeting to meeting. In my professional career, we had, by all measures, a banner year. 2020 - a good year for sure, but a tremendous amount of disruption in the way work happens. Still, there was time to get "work done" between meetings, and it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Fast forward to today, and my 30+ hours of scheduled, re-occurring meetings per week. Looking at the way we work, I'm finding that there are people who are not able to work without meeting about it. That's their thing - it's how they associate their value, and that's ok. But - when does one have time to actually accomplish work - NOT meeting about work - but real, meaningful work that results in something tangible?
In 2019, during a very hectic schedule, I would still have time in airport lounges to do expenses, administrative work, or simply reading / learning / preparing for the day or week ahead. I had time to collect my thoughts before and during flights. I landed - ready for the meetings that were ahead of me.
A Seismic Shift
Looking back at those times, I wouldn't fly to the west coast for just one meeting. I typically would fill up my calendars by having 2-3 meetings a day scheduled. Those were heady days indeed. Only 2-3 meetings per day. Think about the times when a 2-3 or 4-5 meeting day would be a crazy schedule. Either driving to different client sites, flying to a client location, or just having a conference call (or that great new conferencing service called Zoom that everyone loved).
In those days, I had time to prepare for my 10am meeting. We met, for 1,2,3 or even 8 hours. During extended meetings, we would have breaks throughout our time together. We would use restrooms, check email, or gather in a coffee room for casual discussion. Often times, we would, in the course of our casual discussions, come upon a solution to a problem that was raised during the formal part of the meeting.
These casual conversations; the human connections; the on-the-fly problem solving: they're gone.
Think about what you just read - and look at the way you work today.
The problem with problems
The real danger in the way we work today is that everything has moved from casual / sidebar conversations to scheduled 30 or 60 minute intervals of relentless discussion. Many times, it's people invading your digital space because you're 18" away from your monitor, staring at a digital meeting with cameras on, etc. It used to be a novel approach to meeting. Now, it's becoming dangerous.
Before this new way of working, where did innovation occur? Of course, it occurred with very smart people working in labs, solving problems, etc - but where did innovation occur in your life? For me, innovation occurred in the white space between the meetings or in the breaks in the meetings. Innovation occurred in meeting new people, learning about them, learning from them, and applying that learning to your own ethos.
The problem with the problem of incessant back to back meetings isn't the fact that we're meeting. It's the fact that all we're doing is meeting. We're not really innovating. We're not establishing new organic relationships with other people.
This era of technology has led to an incredible amount of change with the rapid shift by business, education, government - almost every sector there is - of people working and learning from home. Business has benefitted from this shift, because despite an increase in capital expense to support this shift, that expense was more than offset by the lack of T&E for what was a very mobile organization.
Consider this though:
- How does one assign a value to the loss of innovation?
- How do you quantify interactions that won't happen now because people aren't working the way they used to?
- What's the dollar value in the damage caused by creating calendar anxiety in double / triple / quadruple booking time slots?
- Has your process of personal innovation changed? How?
I don't think business will know the full impact of this for years to come, but there will be impact in my opinion.
I would love to hear yours.