In my first start-up company, way before we all had the luxury of using the Internet to grow our business from our mobile devices or virtual offices, I used to go see a lot of clients with not much more than an address and map printout in hand. No Google map to eyeball what the building might look like, no LinkedIn to check out that person’s background, or much of anything else to prepare you for that first handshake. It didn’t matter if it was some hairy drive I had to make myself to tiny locations in New England in inclement weather or crazy-long flights to larger capitals; everything was just done the old-fashioned way, even if we were in the high tech industry. And then Webex and Skype and all those other communication options became acceptable in the work place. Then my work life became interesting. And this is even before social media came along.
These days, technology makes global scaling possible even for small companies like my current one. But the best perk of all is that now my work travels with me and not the other way around. Sure, the downside is that you can become more susceptible to the 24-hour work day; it is too easy to reply to clients in a different time zone when you should be sleeping. But the upside is that I can also efficiently react to client issues in my PJs. Gone are the days of schlepping off to work at the crack of dawn to keep up with East Coast hours from LA. Now I can get a lot of work done and still squeeze in a workout or doctor’s appointment, more or less all on my own timetable, without having to set foot inside a “real” office most days.
But going back to my comment about my work traveling with me instead of vice versa… it really begs the question of whether technology makes my life better or worse. Am I even more of a workaholic now because of the 24/7 access to work, or does it loosen the corporate shackles because I can do my work without being chained to a desk, thereby allowing me to multitask into my work day all of the errands that I also need to get done? Technology gives you freedom but it also traps you its web of activity. Lots of activities. Lots of information, lots of stimuli, and still only 24 hours.
I was thinking about all of this on my recent trip to court a client in Paris. During my train ride there from Namur,
I thought about those countless first handshakes that felt like a true first meeting. It was always interesting to sit across from your client for the first time. Sometimes the energy would be kinetic, and sometimes it would be a rocky road until the ice finally broke. Anyway, by the time I was on the sidewalk in Paris, walking toward the client’s building,
I felt a slight twinge of anticipation but there was really no mystery left. Google had already briefed me more than I needed to be on the person I was to see. And the building was exactly where my phone app told me it would be, near the Eiffel Tower:
No matter how much I rely on technology to build our business today, there’s nothing to replace that first handshake. Or the first direct look into someone’s eyes to begin a round of negotiations. The road to business development may have changed a lot since I first got into this sector, but the human interaction in commerce is still the same.
The only difference is that now that there’s this tiny gift called wifi, and a multi-tasker like me can really make the most of out a city like Paris. Today’s entry may be about Paris for work, but where there’s work there’s also time for play…