For many of us, the pandemic changed our work routine, including making us accustomed to working virtually. Working from home was a necessary measure taken to ensure the population was safe and we could get out of the pandemic.
Today, emerging from the COVID-19 restrictions is forcing businesses to evolve into a new reality for customers, clients and employees. For many, this new reality means a different work structure and different work environments, however, bringing our teams back to the office shouldn’t be looked at as a sign of weakness or a sign of an old school work environment. For many of us, it just works better.
Personal connections are an integral part of doing business. Whether those connections are with staff teams or with clients, there is no virtual replacement for a handshake, tone of conversation and emotion that is conveyed through interpersonal and direct communications. Convening as a business community, networking and building relationships is a proven method for business development and using the “collective” to achieve more than we can as individual organizations. There’s a reason why large contracts are negotiated in-person, new client pitches are done 1:1 and political candidates shake thousands of hands. In the Midwest, we do business with who we know, who we trust and with whom we are connected. It is a Midwest value that makes us unique and gives a work ethic value proposition that can’t be replicated.
It’s not just about our customers, it’s also about our internal teams. Building staff culture and cross-team collaboration is essential to many business models. Culture and collaboration are built through understanding, respect and appreciation for the personal drivers that impact all our lives on a daily basis. Respecting your team and colleagues and appreciating what is important to them is done through personal interaction and engagement. A loss of culture building and support amongst team members can trickle into customer service and execution of the mission. If you lose culture on the front end, it will be noticed throughout the organization and every customer and potential employee will feel the vibe.
Additionally, there are individuals in our community who will be left behind in a fully virtual world. Let’s not forget that the digital divide is real, and not everyone has access to high speed, quality broadband. Going fully virtual automatically puts these individuals at a serious, unequitable disadvantage. We have made these mistakes before as a society, we can’t do it again.
Young professionals need an in-person environment to climb the ladder and showcase their leadership potential. Remember when you were in your young 20’s and hustling to make a name for yourself? Young professionals are doing that right now and working hard to establish business connections and showcase their value. There is no replacement for direct personal connections that help young professionals build their networks, achieve promotions and identify new career opportunities. It is our responsibility to provide the best environment for the next generation of leaders to succeed.
Virtual meetings and remote work have advantages, and there will be hybrid work models that make sense for the business community. However, there is no replacement for a personal conversation and relationship that is built through a 1:1 connection. As the world goes through this workplace evolution, those who are able take advantage of the right opportunities and be in the right place, will reap the long-term benefits.
Chris Kershner, CAE
President & CEO
Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce
Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Dayton Daily News.