My disclaimer for this post is that I am a firm believer in establishing relationships and friendships virtually. I have made close connections with colleagues through email, phone conferences, facebook, twitter, etc. Truly, these technological tools allow us the ability to connect in ways we could not have dreamed just a few decades, if not just years, ago. With that said…
There is nothing like meeting someone in person.
The handshake. Eye to eye contact. Sharing a meal, cup of coffee or a drink. Each one of these things binds us to people in our lives in intangible ways that only become evident as relationships develop – and in the case of a professional setting – as we collaborate on projects and efforts to achieve mutual goals.
While it is possible to have success and achievements without the in person meeting, I truly believe that the two-way commitment that can elevate a success to higher levels is more likely when both parties have met.
Recently, I have made visits to our chapters in San Francisco, Memphis, Indianapolis and (as I write this post on the plane back from this latest visit) Milwaukee. The ease of conversation, the openness to share ideas and the willingness to try new things between those chapters we have visited and those we have not is the difference between night and day.
As associations trim travel budgets, and forge full steam ahead with virtual-only approaches, I believe there is a major opportunity lost. An in person visit shows commitment – to the individual member/volunteer and the community they represent. An in person visit allows us to not only discuss the professional accomplishments a volunteer would like to see his overlying area achieve, but also encourages dialogue to learn their personal growth goals and how our associations can invest in them.
An in person visit means that when we ask a question, we will be more likely to get an answer.
Since many of these benefits are subjective, and difficult to support with data (at least on the short term) I imagine that fewer staff visits and trips will be an ongoing trend – but I hope those associations that are visionary realize that virtual, while amazing, is not the end-all be-all. Putting a computer/phone/camera in place as a tool to connect two people still amounts to putting SOMETHING between them.
In the end, the relationships we forge are the forces that drive success. Why would we put anything in the way of developing those relationships?