Instinctively we feel that meeting up in person is somehow better than just engaging in virtual spaces: we sense that the virtual is somehow a shadow of the real thing. This drives us to get people together when we join, when things start, then often resort to phone and email as we continue.
I hear it often: that for important things there is no substitute for getting in a room together around the table, to look each other in the eye and build trust and cohesion shoulder to shoulder.
But what if it’s not better: what if it’s just different?
We know that we behave differently online: we are more fluid in our identity, we project different images of ourselves, we are prone to misunderstanding and outbursts. But we are also more free to explore, to act without consequence, or to experience different notions of consequence. And, increasingly, we are constantly connected in this way.
So what if it’s just different, and what if we could quantify that? Is it better to build relationships in real life then transition them to virtual, or to build them virtually and then meet in real life? Would it make a difference, and what would that difference look like?
I experience this often: meeting someone face to face who i have only known from their curated, shaped presence online. And sometimes we carry on conversations, share jokes, or just start out with an imbued level of trust and understanding.
In the Social Age, it may be less of an option anyway: as we work globally, in distributed teams, this may be a new skill. To become high functioning and productive when we never meet.
Maybe it’s time to reevaluate what ‘normal‘ means. To simply recognise that, whilst face to face is definitely different, it may not be better anymore.