Innovation and collaboration in 2022: Do virtual meetings really cut it?

Author: Web
Innovation and collaboration in 2022: Do virtual meetings really cut it?
Last month we welcomed our friends and long-established business partners from Advantech into our Innovation Hub. We enjoyed a long overdue catch up, discussed the next phase of our VELA industrial computers and even touched on the ‘Industrial Metaverse’, all whilst enjoying a coffee. When all was said and done, we said our goodbyes with a firm handshake and, “We must do this again sometime soon”. Before COVID this parting exchange was almost automatic protocol, but this time more than ever, it felt like we really meant it.

The changing business landscape

You might say that the business landscape has changed irreparably over the past three years. COVID forced those businesses still able to trade to quickly adopt new systems and processes, massively accelerating digital transformation and ensuring even the self-proclaimed luddites amongst us have had to embrace new technology. The hangover from this rapid shift to ‘work from home’, video calls and digital collaboration is still with us. We find ourselves in a no man’s land between the pre-covid rat race and a brave new world of lower carbon emissions, daddy day care and a large percentage of the workforce that can choose, if they so wish, to work from pretty much anywhere in the world. LinkedIn and other social media platforms are filled with opinion and debate on work life balance, and yet we can’t seem to find a happy medium between being in the office and accepting and understanding a colleague's desire to adopt new working practices.

The spark of human contact

What’s still clear however, is that innovation and collaboration require that special spark of human contact. The anecdotal 10 minutes at the start of a meeting where we remember lives outside of work and we get to know each other a little more deeply. I’m not sure that’s possible in a video call. There’s simply no replacement for making someone a cup of tea, shaking their hand and asking how their kids are doing at school or how their new dog is settling in. There's also no substitute for the feeling that a room is getting collectively enthused about a subject, the inkling that something good is happening, when you can feel it in the air.  
I remember my wife and I being in Spain and walking back to our hotel along the seafront one night. We’d been to a restaurant with friends, and we stumbled across a local school orchestra playing classic film themes in the night air. Star Wars and Indiana Jones perfectly played and mixed with the soft sound of waves in the background. It was magical. When I think about it now, I still get the same cold shivers that I did all those years ago. We certainly wouldn’t have had those feelings if we’d been watching from our PC screens, the orchestra playing a virtual concert over Zoom. 
That might be a wild comparison to make, but the principal is the same, as you can take it and apply it anywhere. We’ve loved getting back into football stadiums to replace those lacklustre virtual crowds with real fans, we’re thrilled we can get back to pubs and chew the fat, the theatre, the gym and the cinema, the list goes on. But why not the office? Why does being with people in social settings apparently mean so much to us, but when it comes to the work environment, many of us are not ready to make the extra effort and meet in person? 

Innovation and close collaboration

I believe people are at their best when they work closely with others, and always will be, even the solitary elite golfer has a caddie to steer them towards the hole. Of course, there is huge merit in reducing our carbon footprint, avoiding hours in traffic jams and clawing back precious time with loved ones. But when we embark on a project, or we commit to a common goal and a shared desire to make something good happen, I personally think we owe it to each other to make the effort to be in the same room. 
The Innovation Hub at Impulse HQ is intended for just that. We’ve created a space for collaboration, training and development. Both our customers and our technology partners can join us to discuss projects, test systems and even develop new products together. With a computing and networking laboratory, meeting rooms powered by digital whiteboards running M365, video conferencing, media facilities and a social area with a kitchen and a pool table, our Innovation Hub is an environment in which we hope people will meet for years to come, make good things happen and enjoy a cup of tea or two.
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