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You Can’t Shake Hands In Cyberspace

Originally published on CUInsight.com

You’re expecting another, “back in the days before COVID-19” reminiscing post. Too bad. This topic came to me years ago. You know, BC…Before Coronavirus. Yes, that time really did exist. It’s not just a dream.

Why mention the time frame?

Because it helps you understand that some of today’s challenges aren’t new. For many, remote work is our normal. In fact, getting to meet people IRL (in real life) was a special treat! In case it’s not obvious, the “our” here is me. I work remotely.

Take a look at some of my event posts to feel the excitement of being around other people. Yes, even for this introvert.

What’s Changed?

Ha! What hasn’t changed? Amirite? There’s no minimizing the enormous impact that-virus-which-shall-not-be-named has on society and business. Many, if not all of us, had to adapt to rapidly-changing norms and precautions.

When in-person became “no way”, those who could and weren’t already took shelter online. You joined us on Zoom, a platform we’ve been accustomed to for years. It’s like we’re innovators. Ok, not the way to blaze new paths. You’re welcome here as long as you need.

What Hasn’t Changed?

People Working
Who’s craving this?

People want to interact with other people.

In fact, maybe that’s changed too, because in our physical isolation, the desire to connect is even higher. Either way, for some things, there’s no replacement for an in-person experience.

At the same time, the concepts of digital transformation charge onward. Sure, it meant moving faster than you ever thought possible, but you did that because you’re awesome. Now, it’s time to think about the why. “Why did we need to implement these digital solutions?”

Yes, an unprecedented global event happened. I suppose we can’t really ignore it. At the same time, it forced an acceptance of where things are moving. Tasks which can be made easier and more convenient by using an app or website…should.

This is a golden time to look at what parts of your operation should be driven by human interactions and which can improve with digital ones. Naturally, there will be overlap, but that awareness can help guide your planning strategy, no matter what crazy events transpire.

Digital transformation doesn’t mean making everything digital. It means evolving to provide the best service, experience, and human connection with the right tools in the right ways. At your core, you’re a bunch of people working to help lots more people.

How to Adapt?

Chameleon
Get it? Adapt?

To be honest, the hardest part is the human element. Sharing data or other forms of information (interactive charts, whiteboard, etc.) is actually easiest on a platform like Zoom. Cue that time your whole team struggled to load a file off a USB drive for the meeting.

Digital stuff works great on these services. Cloud-based sharing makes secure and simple transfers possible. No more wondering if that computer’s USB ports are disabled, or if this browser is allowed to load Dropbox. Or if your emails went to spam.

Where we struggle most, and I bet you also, are the casual interactions. For all the love I have for great Zoom happy hours, you know it’s not the same as actually meeting up. As of now, no tech can replace that experience (I’m looking at you, future Apple AR Glasses).

There’s real value to meeting in person, even if we’re wearing masks. Since that’s not a feasible or potentially safe option for many people, here’s some suggestions on comfortably embracing video chat (with qualifications).

Make Video Chat Awesome (Or at least better) For Your Team

Woman with Mask on Video Chat
Good thing…you don’t have to go to this extreme.
  • Help equip your team with good cameras, lighting, and mounts/stands for their cameras (Trust me, being well-angled and lit makes such a difference both for you and other’s confidence)
  • Recognize that you can’t look people in the eye while looking them in the eye (even if it looks that way)
  • Make it ok to mute or turn off video during conversations. It’s like casually looking away in-person; not a bad thing. If someone stares you in the eyes constantly in-person, it’s uncomfortable.
  • Don’t force video chats to be “casual”. It feels weird. Empower your team to set up one-on-one or group conversations in the same vein as they would just meet up in the kitchen or hallway. Business meetings match your culture now as before.
  • Of course, also…use it like kids in remote schooling; to let your team express themselves and show off (if they want) part of what makes them happy. (Every kid wants to share their toys, bedroom, and walk the class through their house.)
  • Sometimes, audio is enough. Just because you can use video doesn’t mean you must. Recognize the potential for personal intrusion it has over audio-only.

Staring Isn’t Caring

The bottom line on keeping team engagement going is to help it be as close to organic as it would be in an office. And you can carry this over to members as well!

For member interactions which previously happened in-person, provide the option for them to use a video chat. Offer a simple video guide on your app or website to get them going. Sure, this is a rip-off of your ITM video tellers, but members don’t have to go somewhere.

See? That you already have or are considering them means you’re on your digital transformation journey! We’ll make it all as good as in-person, you just watch!

Except for that shaking hands thing.

Living In Airplane Mode

“No, it was 1963, I’m sure of it!” “It’s 1964, really.” “Oh just Google it.” “Hmm, it says here 196…WHAT IS THAT?!”

Pointing out the monster on the wing is way better than being proven wrong by the omniscient Google. It wasn’t always this simple to drop a knowledge bomb, though.

How quickly we forget. In 2007, Apple ushered in the modern smartphone era. Before the iPhone, we either had “smart” phones or Blackberry’s. Neither category was particularly good at browsing the Internet. No Siri or Cortana in those days, either. Unless it was essential, you waited to research when back at a computer. But the web still had hold.

Let’s go back even further, before the Internet, like, the 80s. Big hair, boomboxes, leg warmers, neon clothing…got it? If you didn’t know something, you asked another person. Or, crazy as it sounds today, drove to the library. Society operated without all the answers at our fingertips and Def Leppard had no idea how much reverb they used.

Last month, I met a group of friends in Peru to hike the Inca Trail. 5 days, 4 nights of grueling steps, towering mountains, and no wi-fi. We used our phones solely as cameras and flashlights. Roughing it, I know. The separation from our always-on culture began on the flight to Lima. “Please switch all cellular phones to airplane mode.” My phone remained in this state until landing again in Florida. Have you seen roaming charges?

A number of times during our trek, a question was posed. Nothing too substantial, just, “hey, what song has the line?” or “how long is that other trail?” Yet we couldn’t look it up! Being disconnected caught us all off-guard. And it was wonderful.

When instant answers are available, conversations falter. With no reason to think, debate, or discuss, you move on to the next topic. No depth, no connection. Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy a chat wherein we don’t have every fact at our immediate disposal. Imagine a debate about sports stats…done with a Siri request. Sure, now we all know, but where was the fun, the light-hearted arguments, the silly bets, and the social bonds?

Lifestyle guidance sites sometimes recommend disconnect periods, full separation from technology, to get back with yourself. Whether it’s an hour a day or a week per year, the effect is the same; active thought coupled with in-person communication.

It’s tempting to want every new technology for your members, and I’m not suggesting abandoning any of these efforts. Millennials and other generations alike seek the simplicity of modern conveniences. However, once you have these things, everyone is the same. Whether you’re a $5B national credit union, a $25M community charter, or a bank with America in its name, the experience is similar. If your member turns on Airplane Mode, do you stand out?

Image credit: https://support.apple.com/en-us/ht204234

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