In March when all our worlds changed, some changes seemed temporary - but has how we do business and build business relationships actually changed forever?
Lockdown has undeniably created a new approach to how we conduct business. Pre-lockdown the suggestion of a virtual meeting was met with reluctance and trepidation but fast-forward six months and online meetings are a way of life. So what impact has this had on business?
FSB Hampshire, Dorset and Isle of Wight has been running virtual networking and business support sessions for small business owners since May. Initially, I have to confess, I was nervous about hosting an online meeting but I soon discovered that an effective housekeeping framework and strict time-management was the recipe for virtual meeting success.
I have been struck over the last few months by just how accessible, efficient, productive and enjoyable well-run virtual meetings can be. For me, there are many benefits to this new way of working. No travel means less cars on the road (with a positive knock-on to less traffic accidents and congestion) and helps us as a business community strive to becoming more carbon efficient. No travel also means there no associated petrol and parking costs and so there is a major cost saving.
Also, very importantly, virtual meetings are more inclusive. Where face-to-face sessions may be scheduled around the working day - particularly early morning or twilight - the combination of not needing to leave home and no travel time has made sessions much more accessible for parents and carers and, as a working mum, this is close to my heart. At a recent meeting, someone pointed out to me that the virtual world is also a great ‘leveller’. We are all represented in the same size box. There are no ‘cliques’ in the corner of the room and everyone has the opportunity to put their questions in the chat box equally.
Having said that, we are all human beings and Maslow and other theorists tell us beyond the basics of survival, humans need friendship, physical contact and interaction. When pressed about what people miss about face-to-face I hear people say ‘shaking hands’, ‘looking someone in the eye’ or ‘sharing a cup of coffee’. OK, so this can still be done in online meetings but there is something special about meeting in reality - perhaps that’s just the magic of humans?
Overall I, for one, am grateful that out of this crisis there have been some small positive glimmers and I can truly say that I have met more small business owners virtually than I would have in the old world. I have also been able to meet on a one-to-one basis with more FSB members than ever before. As a result, my personal business network has expanded and I have got to know new people.
Perhaps therefore this period has been a catalyst to enter a new world of doing business where face-to-face meetings and the virtual world work side by side giving us greater choice and more flexibility?
Nicky Bailey is the FSB Development Manager for the Wessex area