I have been having strange experiences in foreign lands. I have been hanging out and working with human beings live and in person.
Not Zoom breakout rooms.
Actual rooms. Rooms with furniture.
I have been having the time of my life. I feel a sense of being born again.
I write this while flying on British Air flight #53 bound for Seattle. I have spent the last two weeks working in London and Paris. This was my first business trip in more than two years. It is the first time I have worked “live” with other people during that period.
As we emerge from lockdowns, come out from behind masks and return to working in person, we are stepping into a new narrative that is framed under the brand “hybrid work”. What a lamentable branding effort.
Before I get on with what I learned and experienced the last two weeks, I acknowledge that hybrid working is here to stay in various forms. I accept this reality with the same enthusiasm that I accept the need for getting a crown on my tooth or filing my income tax. All necessary acts but lacking any joy, soul or humanity.
For years, my life and my work have been oriented and directed by one dictum: Relationships are primary and everything else is derivative. After two years in the pandemic, I am amending this dictum to: In-person relationships are primary and everything else is derivative.
My top list of experiences in the last two weeks included:
- Laughing and hugging people
- Looking into real eyes and feeling the presence of another person
- Dancing and acting with a partner as part of a group exercise
- Having real post-program debriefs, in person and then following that with hamburgers, chips and pints of beer in a London pub
- Doing the Oblenski exercise on a square in a quiet corner of Paris while Parisians stared at us
- Having the most glorious two-hour lunch with a team of people in Paris (they understood the assignment of post-pandemic lunch)
- Walking through Paris with a team of colleagues on a scavenger hunt
- Celebrating a successful alumni conference with 25 friends with a group champagne toast (glasses were clinked)
- And the numerous times I had deep, one-on-one conversations with friends about their lives during Covid-19
Zoom and Microsoft Teams cannot hold the space for any of these experiences. I accept that I will spend part of the rest of my life working with clients on these platforms. But please don’t waste my time trying to sell me on the wonders of hybrid work. After two weeks experiencing life and work with real people in Paris and London, I know better.
Covid-19 forced all of us into isolation. We took that hit to our lifestyle because it was the first “vaccine” required to tame the pandemic if we had any chance to gain back lost freedom. Today the next step is to find ways back to working together in-person. To do this, we will need to make three types of choices:
- What of our pre-pandemic work world do we keep as we step into the future?
- What of our pre-pandemic work world do we leave behind?
- What do we need to design, invent and bring forward into this new world?
It is important to understand that in the workplace, the opposite of love is not hate. It is efficiency. If we are not mindful and present, we can de-evolve the workplace by drying out the human soul and evaporating joy and spirit. We need these virtual platforms, but let’s not forget that they are built with 1’s and 0’s.
The best kind of work will always sit on a foundation of in-person relationships and humanity. I believe it is the gift of life to work in-person with people. For years, I took all that for granted. I will never make that error again.
Welcome back to real, human work.