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A lot of nonsense was talked by many HR leaders during COVID Lockdown about the end of offices and permanent massive shift to working at home.

Just as a lot of other nonsense was talked about how millions of people would never go to a physical food shop again, having got used to ordering online.

At first sight 100% virtual working looked great: less cost, less commuting time and so on. But then the problems gradually became more obvious - just as I had predicted many times.

The fact is that most companies that tolerate 80-100% home working for most of their teams will lose out to competitors in the longer term.

Senior executives who actually get on the plane and turn up at a potential client's office, take them out to dinner and so on, are FAR more likely to close their first big deal than their main competitor who wants to save on air fare and travel time and just do a sales pitch on Teams.

Especially in emerging markets like Middle East or Asia.

We need to honour those we say are important to us, with our physical presence at important times.

It's all about trust.

Indeed in many businesses, trust is the foundation stone of every single thing we sell.

Face to face meetings really matter, creating competitive advantage, winning more contracts, growing revenues, reducing costs, increasing efficiency, managing change and risks.

Agile leadership and rapid innovation is almost always bound to be slower in groups that never meet. One reason is that it's easier to build trust and have difficult conversations when the person you are speaking with is actually in the same room.

Another reason is that most people don't think in team meetings, so the most important decisions form in people's minds in lifts, corridors, in bumping into colleagues.

Short, ongoing informal chats are highly effective in moving projects along, compared to much more formal "Let's meet on Zoom tomorrow afternoon".

Being present in the office can also be very efficient in time. A change programme can leap forward when colleagues can grab a minute or two of your thoughts as soon as you are out of your formal meeting or off the phone.

A single 60 second "chance" conversation by a lift or the coffee machine could be enough to prevent a major error, keep a huge initiative on track, inspire an entire new product launch or strengthen a marketing strategy.

Another reason why face to face matters is corporate culture. So you pride yourself on being different as a company, because of your values, history, way of doing things. But how do people pick up on that if they are always working from home?

What happens when new people join? Answer is that with pure virtual working it takes a lot longer for them to feel part of the family, fully immersed in the Company Way.

And anyway, many people don't have a great home environment to work in - young children at home, or others also needing bandwidth and desk space in the same apartment or house, or just not enough space.

The key test is this: what working environment will deliver the most effective, transformational and agile leadership: inspiring, encouraging, guiding, sensing, listening, discerning?

So the future of the workplace / office will certainly be more virtual than it was before COVID, but many corporations have already discovered a huge challenge.

Virtual management is easy, but organisations need to be able to THINK, INNOVATE and CHANGE - all more difficult to do.

At the same time, allowing people to work from home (WFH) for at least part of the week will always be important in healthy companies.

And it's true that in times of crisis, virtual meetings can be astonishingly efficient at implementing decisions almost at the speed of light. But dealing with complexity is another matter.

The same thing applies to importance of physical events, forums, conferences and workshops. There are few other ways that a leader can influence and shape an entire group or organisation so rapidly and effectively. Words of encouragement over coffee, introducing key colleagues to each other from different parts of the business, breaking down silo mentality.

That's why corporate events are so vital to every growth strategy for larger corporations. There is no other way to do it that is so effective.

A zoom call with 300 for hour after hour is no substitute. Having said that, I'm ALSO a great fan of virtual meetings, right time, right format, right reasons. For example, getting together diaries of board members who are separated by long distances.

For team members too: the feeling of access and availability at well run corporate events is really empowering. Knowing that they can have chance of a couple of minutes or longer with the CEO for example, to share an idea or perspective. These things all help keep healthy business on track in highly efficient ways. Patrick Dixon Futurist keynote speaker - conference for Seminarium in Chile

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