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The Great Virtual Work Hoax

Way back in the ancient pre-Internet era, there wasn’t much technology-wise that let people work remotely. If work was to be done, it was done face-to-face. Mano-a-mano. Human-to-human.

To put it bluntly: We don’t live in that world anymore.

In today’s digital economy, there’s a raft of tools that let people collaborate without ever meeting in person. Many of the thinkers behind these tools, such as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, sing the praises of virtual work. Jason Fried’s TED Talk, Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work, encourages us to think about the digital economy as a landscape for remote work. Analog communication is simply too old school.

In February 2013, Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, announced that employees no longer had permission to work from home. The move ignited a wide-scale debate on the merits of working remotely, and questioned whether shaking off an umbrella at reception each morning necessarily boosted sales.

But an important question is lost in that debate: Why does work have to be all virtual or not virtual at all?

Virtual Work Doesn’t Need to Be All or Nothing

Humans are programmed to be social animals. Now that we have the ability to stay connected at all times, we’re tethered to our devices as if they deliver our very lifeblood. Because of this, opportunities like business networking with face-to-face encounters are thriving.

When we humans see one another, we naturally sense the subtle changes in voice, facial expression, body language, and even smell. These perceptions happen subconsciously, but they also trigger our immediate response.

Face-to-face contact lets us gain a catalog of information, in real time, about an interaction. And we’d get virtually none of it if the meeting had taken place online.

Productivity may be improved and employees may be less stressed when they work remotely, and virtual work still does save time and money. However, according to John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University, “if you want innovation, then you need interaction. If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”

How do you avoid what Jason Fried calls “The Two Biggest Drags On Productivity: Meetings And Managers?” The trick: Blend the virtual and non-virtual. Make the two approaches work together.

The Power of the Well-Run Meeting

Virtual tools may be great for focused productivity, but everyone needs to get off on the same foot. This means getting everyone face-to-face in real time so everyone can prepare themselves to be creative and effective.

To help this along, you should prepare a very clear agenda in advance. Identify what actions you or others need to take, what the milestones are, how to measure success at each checkpoint, and plan a time to review the metrics, whether it’s at the next meeting or in between.

Use each subsequent meeting to review the results, learn from them, and improve for the next action step. Done this way, your business will grow systematically, in a virtuous circle – all because you made life easier for yourself and others.

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About the author, David Shriner-Cahn

David is the podcast host and community builder behind Smashing the Plateau, an online platform offering resources, accountability, and camaraderie to high-performing professionals who are making the leap from the corporate career track to entrepreneurial business ownership.

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