Virtual vs Reality

For everyone around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. But what lessons have we learned about virtual verses reality? In many ways, it is those that work that have seen the largest changes. Before 2020, the chances are that if you asked your boss if you could work from home they would have come up with many reasons why it was not possible and, if you were allowed, it would only be very rarely, and you would be made to feel as though you had been given a great favour.

Whilst over the years there has been a slow shift to more flexibility and some people being able to work from home, the spring lockdown forced the majority of people to work from home. So much so that WFH became a very widely used new acronym, and the workplace, and the future of work has changed forever. In numerous surveys the majority of people do not want to return to the office full time but expect to work a significant part of every week from home and it will be very difficult for employers to justify why this cannot be so.

However, people also understand the need to socialise and that virtual is almost never as good as real. As such, most people do not want to work from home the whole time but wish to go into the office or other shared workspace part of the time. So there are benefits to both remote or virtual working, as well as the reality of being with colleagues physically.

Perhaps the other major examples of virtual verses reality is when it comes to meetings and seminars. Zoom has gone from a very little known company to becoming a verb used almost every day by millions of people. Similarly, seminars have morphed into webinars – with many being held on Zoom. And with these examples again there are benefits to both virtual and reality.

Virtual meetings have the benefit of saving travel time and expense, whilst also being able to link people in different locations much more easily. They also normally start exactly on time and are, perhaps, less likely to overrun, so on the face of it it can be argued that they are more time effective. However, these virtual meetings do also have quite a number of drawbacks. Firstly, they always seem to take longer than a simple telephone conversation and this negates most of the ‘more time effective’ arguments. Most importantly, face to face meetings in ‘reality’ are much much more effective at exploring peripheral ideas and opportunities, and these are very often every bit as important as the core reason for the meeting. For some reason zoom meetings only ever focus on the main topic so much can be lost.

Webinars have similar benefits to zoom meetings in that they are able to attract an audience from a much wider geographic area as they do not require the participants to incur the time or costs involved of attending the event in person. However, virtual webinars can never match seminars in reality when it comes to networking opportunities, no matter how good some of the better webinar platforms are now becoming. Many people, myself included, attend seminars as much to meet other people as to listen to what is being said by the speakers. Real, face to face networking remains irreplaceable in generating business opportunities.

So what lessons have we learned in 2020 about virtual verses reality? The overriding lesson is that there are some benefits to virtual, and other benefits to reality. So the obvious smart lesson is that when the world starts to return to normal in 2021 we should all use the best benefits of virtual as well as the best benefits of reality, just as the best businesses will adapt their business model to retain the best of the original but with the advantages of the new.