The In-Person Meeting is More Than Just a Meeting
By Connor Pera (2Y 2020)
There’s a popular office meme that goes “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” I couldn’t disagree more. Now, I’m not saying all meetings are created equal. There are obviously meetings that are more necessary or productive than others. What I am saying is that to dismiss the value of any meeting with others in person, or to presume an email can replace a face to face conversation, is extremely misguided. I may be biased. But I don’t think so.
Admittedly, I’m an extrovert. I’m the guy that makes small talk at the water cooler and in the break room. I purposely do my work in common areas hoping someone will interrupt me to have a conversation. I love interacting with people. And I thoroughly miss it. I don’t just miss the deep conversations. I miss the little stuff. I miss being invited into the quirky little worlds of others. I love hearing about the genius new invention you’ve come up with for making your iced coffee faster and keeping it cold longer. I love hearing about the new book you’re reading, the Netflix show you’re binging and your strategy for winning your team’s next pick-up soccer game.
Every time someone lets me in like this, it gives me an opportunity to relate to and connect with them. Although we can still connect over Zoom, on the phone, or via text, nothing replaces the value of physical presence with another human being.
I’m worried that as we grow increasingly accustomed to a world of social distancing, we’re going to forget this. I don’t want to forget.
Some of the most rewarding relationships in my professional life have come out of so-called “unproductive” meetings. Early in my career, I had one of those “unproductive” weekly check-in meetings, the substance of which could have easily been communicated over email. But I decided to use the meeting as an opportunity to get to know the attendees better. I quickly discovered one of them went to the same undergrad as me. That sparked the beginning of a great work relationship and she became a mentor to me. She spent countless hours helping me develop and cultivate my leadership skills. Ultimately, she ended up being one of my b-school recommenders. I literally wouldn’t be at Kellogg if it weren’t for that “unproductive” meeting.
In-person meetings make relationship formation easier. They also help you learn much more about your colleagues. How many times have we all been able to notice that something “wasn’t quite right” or “felt the magic in the air” simply from a vibe in the room? In person, you can tell when someone is disengaged with a topic based on their fixation on their phone or the look on their face. You can tell when someone is excited by focusing on their tone of voice and their body language. And you can leverage these insights to better understand their strengths, opportunities and types of projects they like. Knowledge is power.
Even in meetings where “nothing gets done,” there is always so much to learn.
As some parts of the country begin opening up and companies begin going back to work, I can’t wait for a good, old-fashioned office meeting. I’m excited for what I will learn. I’m excited for what relationships I can discover and further develop. Now that I know what I’m missing, I plan to prioritize learning and relationships at every meeting.
So when this is all over, please put some time on my calendar. I can’t wait to see you.