Everyone says to replace travel with virtual meetings, where feasible. Marlene Lindberg took virtual meetings to a new level by testing the limits of what might be possible. Read the full story below.
When travelling for meetings or conferences, you get a boost that might seem difficult to let go of or recreate otherwise. But to become more sustainable, we must be creative.
Ever since we were kids, we have been practicing connecting with people while we are in the same room. Working in a global IT company as Tietoevry, I face a completely different challenge. Even if I could travel to meet my colleagues, it is not possible to meet everyone for more than a fraction of the total time we are expected to cooperate. I live in Boden, far up North in Sweden and my closest team members are 150 kilometers away. Hybrid working is here to stay, so we must excel at connecting remotely.
This got me thinking, can I recreate the magic of travel, without travelling?
As the new Head of Operations in Welfare at Tietoevry Care, I wanted to connect with our colleagues in Szczecin, Poland. I got the idea to plan a visit there, exactly as if I was physically travelling, only removing the actual travel parts. Early on, I got the suggestion to invite a travel buddy, and I luckily found Madhavi Bakshi to join me as she was a newcomer in our Welfare team in Pune, India.
Do you want to try this out? Here are 4 things I found important to succeed:
Imagine you are actually travelling and try to transfer that to the virtual universe as much as possible. When you think about it, almost everything can be recreated virtually with some creativity. For example, I realised I would spend quality time with my travel buddy on the plane/train/taxi/hotel breakfast, so that’s how we started and ended our travel days. We used backgrounds in Teams to recreate different scenarios, and that made us feel like it was not just an ordinary Teams meeting.
The big difference when we meet physically is the lack of multitasking you get from just putting people in a room together without their PC and phone in front of them. Make sure you recreate this with some rules for the virtual meetings during your travel. I had all meetings 100% virtual, no hybrid setups. Everyone had camera on and were unmuted throughout the entire meeting. With that setup, we got to hear small laughs and other reactions during our sessions. I spent a lot of focus on engaging topics and moderating the meetings carefully.
When travelling, you get to meet people in a more enhanced way than in normal virtual meetings. You see the whole person (literally), but also experience their body language and full expression catalogue. Find opportunities for this also virtually. Choose topics that are personal, to get to know more about the person behind the desk. I asked everyone to tell the group in the meeting something about themselves, that no one in the meeting knows. This was a topic that opened up such a variety of stories, talent displays, picture sharing and also deepening the relationships between the non-travellers as well.
In virtual meetings, my experience is that we take approximately 2 minutes for off-topic small talk before we dig into the agenda at hand. In my opinion, this is just so sad! The virtual world is such a playground where the opportunities for fun is endless. You can have fun in virtual meetings with 2 people just as you can with 1500 people, just Google and you will find inspiration. The essence of travel is that fun is expected to take the time it deserves. We took the opportunity to experience Indian cooking skills, when Madhavi made Batata rassa and Roti bread during lunch, with her 80 year old father holding up her laptop to film it.
When “returning home” after the virtual travel, I felt so fulfilled with the personal connections I had been able to create. Even now, a couple of weeks after the travel, I have a hard time separating the memories from my virtual visit to Poland from my real visit to Norway in May. In retrospect, the experiences were remarkably similar.
Me and Madhavi met about 50 people over two days. Next time, I will plan my travel itinerary a bit less intense, as virtual meetings are more exhausting than physical ones. Even though it was a bit overwhelming, I feel like I made connections to my team in Poland in ways I would never have done had I not spent this amount of quality time with them. I learned Polish names are sometimes difficult to pronounce, but often people are not at all called what you might believe. I also learned that Gregorian chanting is close to Heavy metal, in terms of vocal challenges and that Python programming language is not named after the snake, but after Monty Python.
Think if we replaced more travel with virtual ones- how much emissions might we save?. During this trip alone, we saved a little under 3 tonnes of C02 emissions, calculated from the savings from flying from Luleå, Sweden and Pune, India to Szczecin, Poland.
Marlene is a digital native who does her best to inspire colleagues and friends on the topic of virtual collaboration. Located in Boden, way up north in Sweden, she realised enhanced digital collaboration would be her way to combine a carrier in tech with the life close to nature she wanted for her family. She works as Head of Operations in Tietoevry Care, Welfare, with colleagues in 4 countries around the world, mostly from her home office.