Generally speaking, we don’t expect most meetings to be recorded. So for better or worse, what we say in a meeting does not become part of the permanent record.

Yet we have discovered that remote meetings follow different rules. Not everyone has access to a high quality internet connection. And some of our colleagues (or in my case, my students) may currently find themselves in a very different time zone.

Which means that, as a practical matter, we end up recording our remotely held meetings. And that means that there will be a permanent record of what we say in our meetings, whether we like it or not.

I wonder whether this will start to change the etiquette of what is said in a meeting, and how it is said. I also wonder whether that change will be a net positive or will be something that we will all come to regret.

I guess we will find out.

Putting limits around the virtual work world

All meetings have gone virtual. So now we can meet anytime we want. Yay.

But doesn’t that create a problem? If everyone knows that you can meet at any time, then they expect you to meet at any time.

Which means we need to develop a new set of skills: Putting strict limits around the new virtual work world.

I have started instituting some strict rules. There are clear times of the week when I don’t spend any time on line doing work. Those parts of the week are strictly reserved for personal time.

I am also going to encourage the people I work with to do the same. I think it’s the only real way that this brave new world is going to work, without all of us ending up being driven totally crazy.

Virtual shopping cart

We’re not supposed to be less than six feet away from each other. This week as I was going through Costco stocking up on stuff (like everyone else) I realized that everyone was doing the same.

Of course that fact that we were all pushing those big shopping carts helped a lot. You can’t really get too close to somebody when you’re behind one of those things.

I wonder, if this outbreak lasts much longer, whether the “six foot rule” will start getting integrated into wearables. Perhaps the first generation of Apple Glasses will warn you if somebody else comes within six feet of your personal space.

Presumably there will be exceptions for family, and facial recognition will be used by your wearable to make that distinction. After all, there’s no point in keeping a distance between yourself and the folks you live with.

Maybe, to make all this easier, our wearables will generate a virtual shopping cart in front of us, right smack in the center of our field of view. An interface that mimics the one we all have in Costco might help to remind us that we all need to keep strangers at a safe distance.

I guess that would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “virtual shopping cart”.

Working without pants

Of course all of my work meetings now are over Skype or Zoom or some other equivalent. That’s true of my colleagues as well.

When you show up on that screen, you still want to look presentable. You think about the background behind you, and you don’t want to look like you’ve just rolled out of bed.

But unlike meetings at the office, you might very well have just rolled out of bed. Maybe you rolled out of bed just for this one meeting. And maybe right after this meeting you will roll right back into bed.

So sometimes I find myself focusing on a dress code just from the waist up. After all, nobody has any idea what I am wearing from the waist down.

And sometimes I go to a meeting without bothering to put on a pair of pants. I suspect a lot of my colleagues are doing the same.

These are weird and scary times, and we take our little compensations where we can. In the immortal words of Kris Kristofferson, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

And hey, think about it. After you’ve lost your pants, what do you really have left to lose?

New skills

I wonder what new skills people will develop, if the economy shifts decisively to on-line. There are a lot of smart and capable people out there in the service economy who, at least for now, find themselves out of work.

Once upon a time, the Web created new opportunities for employment. Similarly, the on-line economy will open up new sectors of useful and rewarding work that we’re very likely not even thinking of yet.

Maybe it’s time we did.

Virtual meetings are now a thing

Today we scheduled a meeting with a colleague at a major corporation. We knew we were not going to be there in person, so we were ready to settle for the second-class status of an on-line meeting.

But then our colleague said that their entire company was going virtual. Today they are working out how to continue operations with everyone working from home.

At that moment it occurred to me that there is suddenly nothing second-class about meeting remotely. When the entire world is meeting virtually, then all meetings become equal.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, as long as you have internet connectivity. Whether you are using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype or something more exotic, you are as present as anyone else.

It looks as though this outbreak is going to last for a while. Perhaps enough time for people to build and adopt new tools and practices.

Maybe, after this is all over, we might see a permanent shift in how people choose to work together. A few years from now, the idea that meetings need to be in person might come to seem antiquated.

I have no idea whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s definitely a thing.

In Middle America

Traveling by car through Middle America in this time of viral outbreak has been a very interesting experience for this New Yorker. Throughout the trip we’ve been stopping off at gas stations to refuel, and at little minimarts to pick up snacks and just as an excuse to stretch our legs.

Of course everyone we meet is taking precautions. People have figured out how to open doors without touching door handles. Everyone is aware of the need to avoid direct physical contact and to keep a safe distance when talking together.

But unlike the people you encounter in New York City, everyone we meet is incredibly polite and friendly. People say hello, wish you a good day when you leave, and are genuinely warm to strangers.

Even in the midst of a plague, people in Middle America are really nice to one another. There’s something to be learned from that.

Road trip

Am about to embark on a long road trip. Car is all packed up, snacks have been procured, and everything is ready to go.

It’s funny how things sometimes work: The viral outbreak leads to a need to avoid close human contact with strangers. That in turn leads to people leaving cities, and therefore actually getting to see more of the world.

So, in a sense, many of us are not responding by checking out of reality, but rather by reengaging with reality. And maybe we are doing it in a better way.