I used to spend a lot of time in eastern Africa. When they arrived late for a meeting, friends there would tell me, with a twinkle in their eyes, that time is like an elastic band — it stretches to fit.
Recently I have had a strong sense of the elasticity of time, and it’s been lovely. I’ve had unrushed, in-person time with colleagues who are based around the world. Not only has it been a treat to see them at all, but we’ve had time to let conversations meander and circle back, gently untangling tricky issues and surfacing new ideas as they occur to us, usually on a walk or over a delicious, leisurely meal.
Such a contrast from the online life to which I’ve become accustomed!
As I sit with clients to plan whether upcoming strategic planning sessions or leadership development sessions will happen in-person, digitally or hybrid, I find myself trying to articulate this feeling. Digital sessions have become highly focused and productive. They are a much “better” use of time. In-person sessions take considerably longer. The activities are slower, and people need more time to move in and out of conversations — even when the meeting is well structured and facilitated. But taking time to let ideas flow organically — that pace feels even more luxurious and rare.
As you plan upcoming meetings with colleagues, the choice of format should be guided not only by accessibility and efficiency. The decision is also shaped by the kind of energy those meetings require and will generate. If the group has clear objectives and is in a “get stuff done” mood, digital is better. If more creativity, nuance and relationship building is called for, I lean toward in-person. But if you’re going to ask people to travel to work together face-to-face, invest in an agenda that is packed less tightly. That unhurried time will yield benefits that will bloom long after the session itself.