Recently, my team had our first on-site meeting of this year, and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to fly 1500km from Vancouver to Palo Alto and meet them in-person. What got me excited wasn’t just that I’ve never been to Palo Alto, but the thought that I was meeting colleagues – who I’ve been working with for the past 4 months – for the very first time. I felt like I was reuniting with a lost twin or relative – I was excited but also very nervous. What do they look like in-person? Will I recognize them when I see them?
My anxiety was obviously unnecessary as they welcomed me with their infectious warmth and enthusiasm over the next 3 days. Reflecting back on my trip, this experience has definitely given me a new perspective on the values of in-person team meetings:
1. “Human” connection & Relationship-building
My team members were more than just a voice on a conference call or a person I email, they became a “real” person who I could chat, laugh and connect with during our coffee breaks and working lunches. And because we got to spend time with each other face-to-face, we became closer as people and as a team, and this new found comfort makes collaboration much easier in the future.
Our team also took some time to complete DiSC, which is a personal assessment that helps individuals learn more about their own personality and behavior. Sharing and discussing our assessments with the rest of the team allowed us to better understand the different ways we think and communicate, and how we can adapt our own styles to collaborate with others more effectively and minimize team conflict.
There was something special about having my colleagues’ presence in the same room. It could have been their body language, or visual aids from flipcharts and markers, or simply being there together and sharing the same experience… it’s hard for me to explain, but having face-to-face interaction made the brainstorming session more engaging for me, and encouraged me to open up and share my ideas more freely
3. Teamwork & Productivity
Having the team together in-person to share updates and accomplishments allowed us to see how our everyday tasks contribute to the bigger picture, as well as how our work contributes to our colleagues’ successes and vice versa. Having more context and insight into what we’re doing individually and collectively can enable us do our jobs more effectively and improve our productivity and teamwork
Google’s SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock once said that we spend more time in our lives working than any other activities, so we want all that time to mean something. So how do we make that time to mean something more than just doing what we’re passionate about at work? How about taking some time out of our busy schedules to bond with our colleagues, get to know them a little better, do something fun together and enjoy life?
This was exactly what we did on the second day of our in-person team meeting. We went to the Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco and sailed for a couple of hours, just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful view and each other’s company. Afterwards, we headed over to the restaurant Banihana to enjoy a delicious teppanyaki meal and entertaining dinner show.
We wrapped up the night sharing the anonymous appreciation notes that we prepared ahead of our team meetings, recognizing each other and showing appreciation for all the great work we do. It was truly an amazing and touching moment, seeing my colleagues blush as their compliments were read to the entire team, and seeing them treasuring and mesmerizing over the notes in their hands.
Unknowingly, 3 days flew by and I was at the San Jose airport waiting for my flight back to Vancouver. It didn’t feel like 3 workdays though, how did this happen? Did we just chat and laugh all day and stop working? No. In fact, we had back-to-back meetings for 7-8 hours every day.
But what changed? It didn’t take me too long to answer my own question – it was the face-to-face interaction. Not only were we more productive and engaged when we were brainstorming and strategy planning together, physically, but the in-person teambuilding activities also enabled us to trust and care for each other even more than before.
Perhaps it had such a huge effect on me because I still prefer face-to-face communication over email, phone and the like. But I can’t help but think that the “face” values of face-to-face meetings still hold true for people who prefer online/virtual communication. What are your thoughts? Do you think face-to-face meetings can improve our teamwork, productivity and employee engagement?