In some recent conversations I’ve had with Legal Counsels, Finance Directors and other typical clients for professional services, it became clear that they are missing out on having real conversations with their legal or financial service providers.
It is not so much the work itself that is under pressure following the restrictions on travel and meeting face-to-face. Video meetings, telephone calls and the ability to share and co-edit documents makes collaboration pretty effective. So contracts, balance sheets and other key outcomes are delivered in a timely manner, meeting quality standards as in pre-Covid times. But since lockdowns have been dominating life – and business – the regular, more informal meetings and updates have become less and less. The proverbial ‘cup of coffee’ no longer fulfilled its role to catch up and share developments, worries and ambitions and some gossip at times.
This leaves many of the people responsible for a company’s financial or legal issues with an increased feeling of uncertainty and – in some cases – stress. As one of my personal contacts put it: “I no longer feel someone is watching over me to prevent me from missing important signals or acting too late on business issues”.
So why does this occur, what’s happening?
A major explanation for this mismatch of intentions and effect, is the lack of knowledge of the tools that are out there which can prove valuable alternatives to Zoom or Teams. For many firms, just as in other industries, video calling or streaming a presentation already has been a giant leap towards online collaboration and communication.
Some solutions are easy to implement, such as getting on the phone more often and chit-chat with your clients instead of scheduling a video meeting with a strict agenda. Just inquiring how someone is doing can deliver much richer outcomes than talking through a predefined list of issues.
But in order to get meetings more interactive, to have networking events or new business initiatives that work for both sides, you need a different approach with different skills. Building interaction online requires that you think ‘process’. As in a workshop, the design of the process dictates what’s happening, how and to what extend participants interact and exchange thoughts and ideas. So, thinking more as a facilitator can help build better online relationships. And thanks to current technology and a wide range of useable apps, it requires less effort than you would expect.
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