Just to set the tone straight: I hate traveling for work just like the next person. But today, I’m covering why I hate working remotely even more than that.
I track my work-related travels over tripit. At the end of each year, that website informs me about my travels. Occasionally I tweeted out the statistics from the end of the year. I think its peak was in 2012 when tripit told me I was on the road for 304 days that year. Since then I cut my travel time every year a bit, considering just the conferences I really wanted to be at, and the like. Even pre-pandemic, in 2019 I still had over 200 travel days for work-related travels. So, when I say I hate traveling for work, you might get a clue.
During the pandemic, in 2021, I had zero travel days for work. For the first time since 2010, I had zero travel days. ZERO! That must have been awesome, right? Well, not really.
Over the course of the past two years, most companies sort of had to learn how to work in a dispersed way, with teleconferences all over the place, almost all white-collar workers joined their home offices and their families. What a great pleasure it has been – not!
Over video conference systems you can still get real-time conversations with people in another room, in another town, in another country, in another timezone, true. But notice how limited your remote picture of that other person is. Are you sure, the person you’re communicating with is wearing pants today? Or the color of their socks? Or how their feet start tapping nervously whenever you start to talk? Yeah, guess what, you can notice all of this stuff when you meet with people face to face, in person, in the usual three space dimensions we call the real world.
Even with extraordinary measures, you will still lack many sub-conscious communication channels that we humans got so used to when meeting another person and can see, touch, and smell that other person. The communication channels at play are so much richer, and over the past two years, I almost forgot about this.
My first in-person training since October 2020 took place in March 2022. That’s one and a half years I forgot about all the other communication channels that I use to read the room and get a glimpse of what is happening for my participants. Instead, in remote trainings I had a way more limited set of communications to use.
While preparing for my March 2022 training, I took a look into older photo protocols, pre-pandemic, from 2020. I was amazed by how little I had noted down on flipcharts compared to what I covered on my miro boards during remote trainings. Did I cram so much more content into my classes in the past two years? Not really, but I only noticed this after entering the training location in March.
With all these additional communication channels, I got to see three different groups working in parallel and still noticed immediately once a group needed my help just by the energy in the room and in that corner of the room where the people were working. So, I could immediately jump in to help them. Additionally, the participants asked WAY MORE questions in person where I could explain a concept on the spot, that may or may not have made it into my remote training materials. During that one class, I noticed how much more communication was happening in the group and with me as the trainer.
That experience repeated and repeated with every course I gave since then.
But wait, it gets better. My work schedule also got less jumping from meeting to meeting. When I had my first on-site coaching client since 2020, I was on the road, wandering around in the offices, having a coffee corner conversation here and there, and no one bothered to cram in another remote meeting in the 15 minutes breaks I might find in my schedule. I could focus WAY MORE on the client.
Compare that to some of the years prior. I remember weeks where I had used Zoom, Teams, WebEx, and some weeks all of them in basically two days alone. Don’t get me wrong. All these tools are great, but yet, they lack much of the on-site, face-to-face experience. Jumping from client to client, tool to tool over the day, unfocused me. There were days when I felt drained of my energy just by the mere context switches I endured through my schedule.
All of that said, I have a hard time understanding some of the arguments raised in this time of transition back from mostly home office to on-site meeting with people. By my estimate, just by working remotely, I think we humans only can bring 20 to 50% of our productivity to work, not even taking into account the misunderstanding of bad audio or internet connections.
In 2020 one of my clients started a discussion internally. The higher management raised the point that they were unsure how much office they would need post-pandemic. I heard side conversations from training participants back then on how that was discussed. For me, the benefits of real-time, face-to-face conversations that are not limited by the activity of background programs outperform anything I can achieve remotely. So I find this discussion of the number of office spaces still broken.
Having said that, this week I agreed with my client to stay home since I had an unsafe contact marked on my phone on my way back home, and we found it more suitable to stay home this week for that reason. And I start to realize again how much I hate it. I just hate it!