The question has been nagging me for almost five months. How tall is Ben King?
Let’s begin with who Ben King is. He’s my chief of stuff (think first lieutenant), and he’s been on the job since January. I interviewed him for the role, and I currently spend about eight hours a day with him in virtual meetings and on calls. You would think I’d have a clue to his height. I don’t.
Such is life in a pandemic. Such is life on Planet Zoom.
I am going to meet Ben King in person in the not-too-distant future and learn the answer to my question, but there might be members of my extended team whom I will know and admire only by virtue of virtual. I have plenty of friends who are CEOs, CMOs and every other possible title, who have taken new roles and started to run different companies in the past year without meeting a single colleague in the flesh.
Perhaps this is the future of work.
As vaccines hit arms and herd immunity moves within reach, the opportunity to shift beyond remote living and working is going to be real. Face-to-face will be feasible and prudent again, opening doors (literally) to meetings and travel and dinners and events. I’m eager to see which opportunities will compel us into restaurants, airplanes, conference rooms and conferences.
In the context of the work we do at MediaLink, the petri dish for post-pandemic business behavior is the agency review. Last March, the entire search apparatus was halted as brand marketers put a hold on pitches knowing there was no way agency teams could board airplanes to travel to chemistry checks or pitch meetings. As the lockdown wore on, however, marketers started to tiptoe into Google hangouts, Zoom calls or Microsoft Teams to meet new people, listen to new ideas, and decide new partnerships.
Everyone got good at it. Very good.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to the pitch room. It’s become the way of safe, smart business. Negotiations, deals, and engagements that once were locked with a physical handshake are now solidified with a virtual nod through screens and devices. It’s difficult to imagine the pendulum swinging all the way back in a post-pandemic world, with mandatory in-person conversations and marketers stipulating that agency personnel show up in the room for pitch presentations. One thing we’ve learned for sure is that virtual works, and we also learned that virtual is pretty darn good for the planet. It is less expensive. More accommodating.
I ask myself, am I ever going to travel to the other side of the globe to attend a meeting when I can show up virtually, well-lit, and rested for the same conversation? I also ask myself, if a potential client gives an agency permission to not show up live during a review, will the holding companies try to up their ante by ignoring that hall pass and walking into the pitch room live? These are important questions for us to answer, but I know from Ben King that it doesn’t really matter how tall the people are on the other side of the screen. Or whether you know their vital statistics. Virtual gets the job done.
Having said all of this, let me also calibrate my sentiments. I do intend to meet Ben King in person very soon and “size him up.” I will attend important meetings and events. I was talking to Joseph Jaffe recently on his CoronaTV streaming show and he mentioned the proverbial bear hug. He asked me how an extrovert like me deals with a hybrid existence, and if you know me, you know I’m up close and personal. I started my business by working the room, and later enjoyed the energy of a room working me.
I’ll be back in the real-world room where it happens. Certainly with less frequency, but probably with far more enthusiasm.