How Are Virtual Meetings Depersonalizing Client Relationships?

Recently, I was in a discussion with our Vice President of Student Services. We were working through how we might better serve our school district clients. He expressed his frustration that it is difficult to even gain access to our clients to have meaningful discussions. When we do there is this sense of needing to get to the next virtual call so that the meetings are highly timed, scheduled and more generic.

We both recalled the day when we could visit officials in school districts and have meaningful discussions about the needs of their school district, staff, students and families. It was there that we were able to strategize and come up with creative solutions to some of the significant problems they were facing. That kind of strategy takes time, lengthy discussion and an ability to work out logistics creatively.

As we reflected on the fact that we missed those types of meetings and the relationships that were created we recognized some of what may be a trend in our country and in our relationships. Since COVID this has become a permanent style of business relationships.

We recognize that the convenience of virtual meetings is incredibly helpful. I am able to communicate with organizations, systems of care and individuals all over the country. We don’t have to fly to meetings across the country, find and pay for hotel rooms and interact with all the difficulty of travel. Yes, it is very convenient. 

Also, as a result of this trending we can provide virtual training both live and asynchronously.  That is also a significant benefit and allows us to provide training to so many that wouldn’t otherwise be reached.

Yet, as I have meeting after meeting virtually, I sense that people are wanting to get off as soon as they can so they can get to a task or to the next meeting. We also have to spend time scheduling and arranging all the necessary individuals to find space in their schedule and hoping that the technology works. Then as some have to leave for another meeting and then the meeting progresses towards a quick end. Rather than lengthening discussions by continued strategy, we sense a need for the meeting to end on a timeline and then reschedule to complete the discussion which can take weeks.

My point is that it all feels very robotic. The natural relational components of having coffee, getting to know someone personally, having the freedom to be a bit more authentic, brainstorming and finishing the issue at hand is no longer a part of our meeting milieu. We are timed, focused, sometimes not paying attention and doing other things and then we end abruptly to move to the next agenda. It often feels hollow and somewhat depersonalized. 

The absence of some relaxed time inhibits us from a bit of the valuable brainstorming and strategizing that may be helpful to students and families. Eventually those meetings may happen but by that time many students have potentially missed the opportunity to get the services and support they need. The very nature of relationships is that they are personal, honest, compassionate, communicative, understanding and creative. I fear that we may have lost some of that capacity as we have learned a new way to relate after the pandemic. Maybe it will be a good thing to start in-person meetings again – at least in part – to reestablish the authentic and genuine partnerships that can produce positive results and supportive of those in our care.

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