Planes, Trains, Automobiles and covid – The return to in person meetings!
14th August, 2022
When the world came to a standstill in March 2020, there was a period of panic for most businesses not only the pandemic itself, but how would we be able to continue doing our day to day work without leaving the house? In some cases the answer was you couldn’t, but for most, the pandemic forced the much needed modernisation of many businesses. Stock of IT equipment became like gold dust and everyone became proficient with applications like Zoom and Teams in a very short space of time. Thankfully, with the worst of the pandemic seemingly behind us, although not completely gone, the world has started to open up again. For a professional trustee, this should mean a return to the normality of in person meetings, but as we have learned in the last few years, just when you think it can’t get any stranger, it does. So the question is, are in person meetings worth the effort?
In person meetings are key to developing strong personal relationships with clients and professional advisers. In an ideal world, all meetings would be in person, but that isn’t always possible and in many cases, as the use of remote working has taught us, sensible. Despite the sometimes clunky interaction of a virtual meeting, should we really just slip back into travelling the country, especially for shorter meetings, when we can do these more efficiently from home or the office?
I recently attended a meeting in Bristol, as I regularly did on a quarterly basis pre-pandemic, although this one was anything but regular. I was excited to catch up with co-trustees and advisers and even the prospect of a 6am flight seemed fun! The day before the meeting, two attendees had to pull out due to COVID, the meeting therefore became hybrid, which is a challenge in itself, even in the most modern of offices with all the technology. During the meeting I found out that my return flight was cancelled (love Ryanair!) and I spent the time in the lunch break frantically trying to consider alternative travel and accommodation options. As flight routes are still lower than pr- pandemic, that wasn’t easy and I ended up having the choice of seven hours on a train back to Glasgow or a train to Birmingham and a flight from there to Edinburgh, with a taxi home. In John Candy style, I went for planes, trains and automobiles and got home at 11pm. All of this for a four hour in person meeting!
My experience is not uncommon and things have only got worse over the summer, with rail strikes, spikes in fuel costs and chaos at airports across the country, as everyone tried to escape for some summer sun. Somehow, the idea of a holiday is now more stressful than just staying in the house. All of these issues make the move back to the office and in person meetings more challenging and in a lot of cases, we still haven’t fully removed Covid restrictions either.
Despite the obstacles, well managed and planned in person meetings still carry a lot of benefits. The discussions over a cup of coffee during a break that let you get to know colleagues and connections in a more personal manner can be the thing that solidifies a strong long term relationship. Going for a meal and a drink after the meeting is often a good way of low cost business development. Most importantly for a number of people though is the break from working at home. We used to leave work and go home to unwind, now we work and live in our home and at times it feels like there is no real break from work. The pandemic was expected to last six months back in 2020, now nearly three years on, people still probably don’t have a proper and convenient set up at home, even if they are fortunate enough to have the space to accommodate a few desks.
In summary, in person meetings are vital and a return to them is very welcome, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the benefits introduced by the pandemic to offer a well-rounded work life balance. Perhaps the fuel hikes due later this year will encourage a few more of us out of our expensive to heat homes!