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It’s Not “Virtual”​ Anymore

We’ve been living in the new way of working for weeks now, and there are many more weeks/months to come. So how do we stop thinking of working through the lens of “virtual” and start to show up how we really want?

Let’s really start to embrace the new way we work.

Today is April 24. It hasn’t been days since the global pandemic changed the face of work. It’s been weeks. Soon, we will stop measuring this period in weeks, but in months. Instead of asking ourselves, “When will this end?” we are now considering the more important question of, “What will the future look like?”

What we already know is that the future will involve more of what we are experiencing today: a huge increase in online meetings and distributed work teams, and a massive decline in business travel and in-person group meeting/gatherings. The core playbook we’ve used for decades has been shredded, and we’re writing a new playbook without much of a ruleset to lean into.

Many of us also feel a strong sense of grief about the state of our working environment. We are moving through the loss of what we knew, valued, and protected. For me, I have felt enormous tension within this. I desperately miss the human interaction, energy, and social reward of work. And my grief has often led to an underlying resistance while I wait for things to get back to ‘normal’. Maybe you feel the same way.

But resistance only creates more friction going forward. Using the Designing Your Life toolset, we would call our new work reality a Gravity Problem. It’s something we wish we could change, but we simply can’t. We must accept it and move on, using reframing tools to build our way forward.

This leads me to one of the most common phrases we’ve all used or read in the past weeks:

Our meetings will be virtual going forward.

My colleagues at Smart Savvy have seen me rail against this language. To be honest, seeing the word “virtual” in every other sentence is exhausting me. I’m becoming irritated with myself about how irritated I’ve become. What’s behind this?

To start my journey towards dis-irritation, I looked up the definition of “virtual” in the mighty Google and this was the primary result:

Virtual – almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.

By definition, we’re having virtual meetings which are not simply different, but something that doesn’t fulfill our requirement. It’s a “search and replace” that we haven’t asked for, nor have we fully accepted.

My offering is this: our resistance to the new work world is giving us tacit approval to accept that our conversations, meetings, and work experiences are subpar facsimiles of what they should be. And I think that needs to end. A few years ago, a “virtual meeting” was a substitute for our preferred modality of human interaction and productivity. But today, a “virtual meeting” describes where we’ve been versus where we are and, more importantly, where we are going.

The parallel for me is “digital marketing” and the inherent oxymoron that exists within it. Back in the 2000s when things like email marketing, social media, and e-commerce were emerging as our dominant tools of marketing engagement, it was useful language. It felt progressive and purposeful at the time. But what about now? If someone tells you they are an expert in digital marketing, the ironic (or sarcastic) response could be, “Cool…can you tell me about your analog marketing experience?”

OK, so how do we move forward?

Going non-virtual

The reframe is to stop using the word “virtual” and move to embrace our new work world. Because this is how we’ll work for a long time to come. Here’s four tips I can offer that are helping me show up for my work in a non-virtual way.

Work like you are in the presence of others

I was as guilty as anyone about not maintaining my focus during online meetings in recent weeks. Whether it was the plethora of snacks on my desk or the multiple screens I had running concurrently, I was setting myself up for distraction and failure. The challenge I used for myself was, “What if the other people were in the room with me right now?”. It helped me focus on important habits like eye contact, not interrupting others, and being fully present in all conversations.

Use your fundamentals

Most of us have a regular and proven model for running meetings, following up on action items, and driving to decisions. Are you using all these well-honed tools today? What’s been missing for you in the past month? What would it take for you to revisit the fundamentals that you know and trust? How can you bring them forward to the new way of working?

Commit to what matters

While I don’t want to dismiss or minimize the huge challenges and questions organizations have been navigating in the past weeks, I’m hopeful that it’s now time for some of our longer-term goals and intentions to start to resurface. Is there a key team development or learning engagement that you’ve sidelined because you’re resisting doing it “virtually”? What bias or dysfunctional belief is holding you back from committing to advancing your team’s goals and growth? What, if anything, has changed about what matters most to you and your team?

Dress for work…at home

The joy of throwing on that comfy sweatshirt and old slippers for work every day should be wearing off by now. Moreover, the clothes we wear set our intention for how we show up for our work lives. They mark the start of our workday when we put them on. And when we put them away at the end of the day, they signify an important demarcation of transition…work is done and now I’m fully engaged in my home life or other activity. So, what would it look like if you wore your regular work clothes to your home office for a week? What would that do for you in terms of setting your intentions and a disciplined schedule for the day?

Let’s put an end to the “virtual meeting” and start working like we mean it. What would it take for you to show up with the full focus and intent to interact with others as you would in our previous work world?

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