Face-to-face meetings, company events, and conferences will be critical for business recovery as Australia exits lockdown according to a behavioural expert.
Dan Gregory, co-founder of the Behaviour Report, said businesses and communities are now at a crossroads as people search for normality post-pandemic.
People need people
“Every generation has a formative experience, whether that be the Second World War or the Cold War, and right now, this global COVID-19 pandemic is ours,” Gregory said.
“What we’ve seen over the past 18-months is a real culture disconnection with teams being split up and the splintering of workforces as most professional activities moved online – even children have suffered with the move to online learning and a real lack of social interaction.
“Businesses and employees are now at a crossroads when it comes to travel, but what I can tell you is people have been desperate for some sense of normality, and there’s a real desire for some form of human interaction and face-to-face communication again.”
In-person interaction necessary for success
Gregory believes face-to-face meetings are critical to business recovery because Zoom or Teams meetings don’t give you a real understanding of who you are dealing with.
“Let’s be honest, multi-million dollar deals aren’t going to be done virtually, people want to be comfortable with knowing who they are getting into business with before signing a contract. That’s where the casual chit-chat aside from official meetings remain crucial.
“We make assessments on non-verbal cues and is not about the content of the, it’s about the character of the person, we don’t build trust by content, we do it by character.”
Gregory says non-verbal cues are critical.
“If you think about the way we do big-ticket sales, traditionally in the corporate world a lot of these sales are done by breaking bread. We have a conversation over a meal or coffee or over a drink. The reason we do that is we are not listening to everything they say in their pitch or they are not listening to everything we say in our pitch, they are assessing our character, looking at the food we eat and the drinks we order, looking at how we treat the wait staff or members of our own team.
“In other words, it’s critical to look at behaviours to build a sense of trust and that requires being able to eyeball people and taking in those non-verbal cues coming in.”
Zoom fatigue has left people craving connection
Gregory says culture and teamwork can’t just be manufactured and as businesses return to offices and premises, and teams come together once more, it is essential to rebuild this sense of connection.
“Culture and those connections are often built by incidental conversations. The conversations in between. Those random conversations and accidental collisions you have in the break or in drinks after work, that is often where culture is most critical and it’s also where innovation and productivity happens,” Gregory says.
To explain how culture and connection impact innovation, Gregory cites a tale of two devices…
“If you think about the question that probably has kept Sony awake for the last 20 years, It is, ‘How did we miss the IPod?’ Yes, this is a Walkman, if only they had a music label with some of the most successful artist in the world signed to it, which they did. And if only they had computer people to build their hard drives, which they did. All the different parts of the organisation were in separate silos and separate organisations, those incidental conversations and collisions of ideas did not happen.
“This is what we are experiencing at the moment, where we have organisations that have been siloed by distance or Zoom, we are not having incidental conversations and it is affecting culture. This will be critical for the next point, if culture becomes unwound, engagement starts to drop as well,” he says.
Helping people feel safe
While Gregory is insistent that a return to face-to-face is essential, he also concedes that many people feel reluctant to emerge from their cocoons post-lockdown.
“Lockdowns have been long, and people will want to feel safe. That’s where COVID- safe communication and COVID safety protocols come in – they should be front and centre of any business’s plan and that will remain the case for some time.
“Humans are resilient and history shows that we’re good at overcoming world-altering events and challenges put before us. If businesses and employees can work together then it won’t be too long before deals are done over handshakes, rather than Zoom, once again,” Gregory concludes.
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