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Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
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5:00 AM 28th November 2020
business

The Saturday Essay: Are We Getting Too Comfortable Conducting Business From Behind A Screen?

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
Elliot Rich, owner of The Alternative Board (York) thinks some business owners might be getting too comfortable conducting business from behind a screen

We’ve all adapted to new ways of working this year, and my own business is no exception. I work with business owners on a one-to-one coaching basis and in groups, or ‘boards’, of other non-competing business owners who meet monthly to share challenges, knowledge and experience to help each other shape plans and make sound business decisions.

As you might imagine, those meetings moved online in March, with a unanimously positive reaction from all TAB York members, and our board members continued to support one another through the unique challenges Covid-19 presented. As the situation evolved, I checked in regularly with all my members to see whether there was an appetite to start meeting again in person with the appropriate safety measures in place. Until last month, the response was the same: online works; it’s a great time saver, and I’m getting the same value as I did from our face-to-face meetings.

In October, something shifted. Almost without exception, people wanted to meet in person again. And the conversation changed. Members stopped talking about ‘pivoting’ and started talking about looking forward and thinking about where they want their businesses to be in 2021. The conversations also went much deeper, really getting into the detail of each business. “Wow, that was intense,” said one of my members after a face-to-face coaching session. I’ve never had that feedback after a video call.

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash
What became very clear to me within only a week of resuming meetings in person was that there’s a different tone to the conversation when you’re sitting across a table from someone. The dynamics, the body language, subtle shifts in tone, the rapport, the intensity: there’s no doubt that a face-to-face meeting takes things to another level.

I work with a personal trainer and, through the first lockdown, I trained in my home gym instead. Not once did I feel the aches and pains the day after exercising that tell me I’ve had a good workout. Yes, I was working out, but I was reaching nowhere near the same intensity levels I would have been had my personal trainer been there, pushing me to go beyond my comfort zone.

And I think the same applies in business. As human beings, we can quickly fall into a comfort zone, settling into a ‘new normal’ and forgetting how things were before. But my role, and the role of The Alternative Board, is to challenge thinking, to dig deep into the nitty gritty of our members’ businesses, strategies, plans and issues, and help them to move forward. And while we’ve been able to continue doing that via video calls, it’s become apparent over the last month that when you do it face-to-face, there is nowhere to hide.

I think that, by working within the boundaries of technology without someone to look them in the eye and challenge their thinking, some business owners may have fallen into a comfort zone that may not be helpful to them or their businesses in the longer term.

Video meetings have many benefits. They absolutely have their place, and I can see many businesses - mine included - adopting a hybrid model that blends online with face-to-face working. But when we have the luxury of choosing whether to meet remotely or in person once again, my question to you would be: are you choosing online meetings for the right reasons?

Are you really being efficient? Or are you hiding behind a screen to avoid having challenging conversations with your employees, your customers, your stakeholders, your peers, or the people in your supply chain? If it’s the latter, I would suggest that you’re not doing yourself or the long-term future of your business any favours.

2020 has thrown us many challenges. Tackling them head on, with the support of your close network of trusted advisers, will stand your business in very good stead to thrive in 2021 and beyond.

Elliot Rich
Elliot Rich
Elliot Rich runs The Alternative Board in York, working with 25+ business owners every month across the healthcare, professional services, property, retail, hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing and IT industries.

The Alternative Board is a global organisation that supports business owners to take their business to the next level through supportive advisory boards made up of other local business owners, expert 1-2-1 coaching, and a suite of business tools.

As well as looking at improving sales, sorting out HR, helping with finances or other business challenges, TAB starts with business owners as people, helping them to clarify their personal vision and then supporting them to build a business which supports that vision.
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