I wonder how many times you have had the conversation about what work life will be like when things return to ‘normal’? I honestly think that it forms part of every chat I have if we have friends/ relatives around or I’m catching up over Teams/Zoom with someone from the industry. Well, I may have had my first glimpse of what the new normal is. Over the past couple of days, I have attended a hybrid conference, hosted by the retirement/investment consultant Mercer.
The format was a mixture of in person and virtual. I estimate there was over 200 people in person, packing into an auditorium in London and probably at least the same (probably more) attending via their home office, sofa, or wherever they fancied. The live sessions were beamed into the virtual and all attendees were able to interact via an app – taking part in surveys and posing questions to presenters of the live sessions. After the second day all delegates left the hotel venue, but the conference continued online via a series of more focused show and tell style interactions, giving the investment manager participants the option of promoting their latest ideas.
The concept seemed to work well. It certainly enabled people to take part from across the globe but without the need for expensive and carbon spewing flights to participate. Being there in person was initially actually quite daunting. The main auditorium was in a windowless basement of the hotel which seemed to exacerbate the sensation of being in close proximity to so many people. But what it did make me appreciate and realise is that I do actually like people! I mean the 3-dimensional type beings that don’t occupy that little box on the Zoom/Teams screen. This might seem a strange thing to say but over the past couple of years being discouraged from venturing out and about has made me look to my study as something akin to a sanctuary. I felt a little resentment at the idea of exiting the sanctuary and being required to embark upon that dance of networking and reacquainting myself once again with peers and ex colleagues. But I do have to admit to enjoying the freedom of time to wend a conversation through the most random of thoughts, without having to peer down to check whether the hour session was up. What I enjoyed less, however, was the need to try and part hear/ part lip read a conversation over loud music in a dimly lit drinks reception. Some things never change.
So, I head home from the conference optimistic about the potential for a new regime of working, embracing the in person and virtual. Of course, my perspective is from someone who did both; it would be interesting to know if someone who could only attend the virtual would share my positivity.
The trends we’ve seen over the past couple of years, accelerated by way of necessity, have featured quite frequently in my posts but largely they’ve been observations about what may or may not happen. It feels encouraging to have now experienced what I feel could be a glimpse into the new way of working.