Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Keeping it real

I missed out yesterday on something that's rapidly becoming a Monday morning tradition: a face to face meeting with a friend, colleague or associate where we both have the chance to chew the fat on work, life and all that's somewhere in between.

A few weeks ago I met up with Rich the legal journo; then it was Paul the consultant, and yesterday should have been Annie the PR-turned-lawyer. In this age of electronic communication, there's all too little time to stop, pause for breath and have a good old chat about what's happening in our world, and seemingly less opportunity to have those outside-the-office talks face to face.

Back when I started work in the mid-80s it was all so different. At Which?, we were regular lunchers en masse as a team, often frequenting the pubs around Charing Cross and then the lower reaches of Camden. Later when I worked agency side, we lunched in the pub most days, and certainly on a Friday, not a lot got done in the afternoon. In between times, I worked in the age of the business lunch where I was either hosting business feeds or being a guest of a supplier or my peers just about every week. And we weren't like the French: lunchtime was a time to sort out business issues over a pint; to be creative and come up with great solutions. There was a great bond, working as a team but in a social situation - far better than the forced team-building so loved by big business in the 90s.

And for me, it was the mid to late 90s when everything changed. As email really took over as the medium of convenience, and as intranets and the first clunky collaborative working tools replaced phone conversations and meetings, the culture of informal face to face contact went out the window.

As we worked longer (though not necessarily more effectively), the social lunch - especially with alcohol - became increasingly frowned upon to the point of being a total non-starter. And as social media have emerged, the urge even to meet people face to face has been seen too often as too much of a time waster.

I hold the opposite view. I can achieve far more meaningful contact in one face to face meeting than in any chain of tweets, emails and blog posts. Today it's far too easy to feel we know peers and colleagues because we follow them on Twitter or are friends on Facebook. The reality is that we may have a far wider framework of acquaintances, but we can't ever really get to know these people if all we're doing is conducting a keyboard or touchscreen relationship.

By nature, I'm a pretty anti-social networker: it's easy to hide behind the keyboard, harder to get out and spend the time really engaging, face to face. I'm trying to break my bad habits - even if it's more likely to be in Costa than in the pub.

Anyway, last time i went into my local, a pint cost £3.75. Even if I wanted to get drunk in work time now, I couldn't afford to. That's a sobering thought.

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