Face to face. Inside these three words lie the promises of cramped seats in a commercial airliner, layovers in crowded airport terminals, unfamiliar alarm clocks awakening you in a foreign hotel room, and rental cars that easily get lost in a parking lot because you don’t remember which one belongs to you. Yet, these perceived negatives are more than offset by the positive effects of being able to sit across the table from your business colleagues, face to face.
As I compose these very words, I am seated at a dimly lit desk inside my hotel room near Portland, Oregon. The snow on the ground and sub-freezing temperatures outside my window are rare for this part of the country. But, it is a novelty that I willingly accept for it is yet another experience that adds to my life story. Traveling from my home airport in Orlando to the Pacific Northwest has carried me more than 2500 miles from my home, my family, and the balmy sunshine of Florida. The 100 mph headwinds encountered during my flight reinforce my resistance to this expedition.
Naturally, the first question my eleven year old son has is “Why do you have to go?” There is certainly a touch of emotion wrapped into this inquiry, not looking forward to my absence over the three days that I will be away from home. But, there is also a more perceptive aspect to his question. Why can’t you just have a video conference? What about Skype? It is difficult to explain to an eleven year old that Skype didn’t always exist, let alone the internet. And if you think that is difficult, try explaining that every phone used to have a cord attaching it to the wall.
I suppose the entire face to face concept established its roots in the era before teleconferencing and inexpensive long distance calls. From a task oriented standpoint, technological advancements have allowed us to achieve so much more via collaboration. And although it is important to meet deadlines, close action items, and supply deliverables, it is not enough on its own. A key ingredient that is missing from the equation has been lost in the rush of technology. It is the quality of a relationship. In one word, trust.
The great myth of our time is that technology is communication. ~Libby Larsen
There is an intangible benefit to sitting across from a customer or colleague and sharing ideas. The same knowledge may be conveyed over a telephone wire across the span of a continent, but the totality of the communication is not the same. The opportunity to make eye contact, to share a cup of coffee during a fifteen minute break, to have dinner together. You learn more about the person you interact with on a daily basis. You come to realize that you share common interests outside the workplace. That is priceless. It establishes a connection beyond the necessary requirements of business. Or perhaps, in the end, this is a necessary requirement. These are elements that are impossible to transmit across a telephone line or through the most advanced video conferencing software.
I spent close to an entire day traveling to and from my destination in order to sit across the table from my colleagues for a time totaling the same. Although the use of this time may appear inefficient, the return on this investment far exceeds the costs present on any expense report. On so many different levels.
The same headwinds that hindered my travel time outbound will be expediting my return trip home. I am headed back to the sunshine state, back home where I have another important face to face meeting scheduled. As I unlock the front door to our house shortly after midnight, I am greeted with a kiss and hug from my wife. Tiptoeing into my son’s bedroom, I find him peacefully asleep. Yep, this is one meeting on my schedule that I have been looking forward to since my departure. Enlightened by my travel experience, I am indeed home.