I never imagined a future in which I would be forced to give up traveling for work. But now, after having adjusted to the realities of COVID-19, this road warrior wonders if he will ever travel to an in-person client or team meeting again. Not only is it dangerous for everyone involved, but operating in this way wastes huge amounts of time and energy. And it contributes significantly to pollution. There will need to be a very compelling reason to take the risk and expend the energy to get on a plane again.
The shift to remote work will probably not be a one-time deal for many of us. In May, the media reported that 25% of Fortune 500 CEOs believe their company’s business travel will return to pre-pandemic levels by Q1 2022. But 52% think it will never return. Twenty percent believe 90% of their workforce will return to their usual workplace by January 2021. Twenty-six percent think they will work from home indefinitely.1
I just wonder how many of these senior executives, like me, are including themselves in these numbers.
I’ve been reflecting on the whole road warrior lifestyle. You know the drill. Get a car to the airport, wait in line to go through security, sit on the plane. Wait to go through customs. Get a car to the hotel, grab a few hours of sleep. Get in another car to go to the meeting room. Then get in a car to go back to the hotel, another car to get to the airport. Go through security, sit on another plane. Get into another car in another city.
I only have one life. Why would I want to spend my time and energy in this way, especially when almost everything I do can be accomplished virtually—without putting anything at risk?
The occasions that require my physical presence are now the exception, rather than the rule. Meetings are now virtual. We can train and test adults, even proctor exams remotely. On the personal front, I can watch my sons and daughter compete in baseball games via livestream from the comfort of my home office.
Perhaps one very compelling reason for me to travel these days would be to build trust.
But even then, I can establish new relationships over Zoom. If we’re starting from zero, it might be difficult to get to the level of trust required for a joint venture or a merger. As an aside, I’ve noticed that introverts and ambiverts like myself (introverts who can, on demand, play the role of an extrovert) tend to adjust to long distance, “from-the-shoulders-up” interactions remarkably well. They don’t seem to carry forward any unconscious expectation of necessarily getting energy from people or giving energy to them through a little screen. Extroverts, on the other hand, rely on getting energy from their interactions with others and tell me they still long for the chemistry that happens face to face. But if all parties are authentic and candid, open and engaged, willing and committed to dedicating as much time as it takes to build trust in the relationship, then building trust virtually from the ground up is possible.
To be honest, I am actually grateful for one aspect of the disruption caused by the pandemic. I’ve learned that I don’t have to travel to do business. And that means I get to see more of my family. Plus I’ve discovered that my personal productivity increases greatly when I’m not spending a lot of my energy and time traveling.