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Engineering Investment and Business Alignment

I miss the in-person arguments

I miss the spirited head-to-head debates! About deals getting closed, product tradeoffs, strategic choices, and who we should and should not hire!

Ok ok, I’m joking, I actually don’t love the fighting, but as we close in on 2 years of working in this virtual/remote/hybrid world, I can definitively say that we are missing something. It both works…and doesn’t. We’ve proven that in this transactional world we can “get our jobs done,” but we made trade-offs when we were forced to adapt to this “new normal.” We also have plenty of lit and kibitizing out there about how we’re missing the culture and serendipity of passing each other in the hallway but I want to laser in on this one really important missing piece.

What still bothers me is that we’re missing the days of in-person arguments. Yes, I know that statement by itself sounds crazy; we are fighting plenty enough these days (just turn on the news).  But the nuance here is that it’s not the arguments that I actually miss in the workplace; we are missing the whole path to resolution.

In the “before times”

Let’s say that we have a disagreement. Maybe the discussion gets really heated and it’s still that way at the end of the meeting. In the “before times,” being in the same place would make us both stay in the room to see it through. Or, maybe I’d go to my desk, and you’d walk with me down the hallway to conclude the debate. And if we couldn’t do THAT, we might scowl at each other through conference room windows for a few hours until we eventually pull each other aside and squash it.

At the end of this, we understand where each other came from, we’re both committed to finding common reasoning, and the earlier decision becomes more refined and nuanced. Plainly speaking, you and I – and the company – are better for it.

Arguing virtually lacks resolution

Now let’s consider today’s world where everyone is virtual. We’re in the middle of an argument and we’re approaching the end of the Zoom meeting. We booked an hour, and we’re both in back-to-back meetings. Guess what, the zoom ends and we don’t finish it… We both don’t have the energy to stay on and think to ourselves “We’ll solve it the next time we meet,”. Sure, we could just chase each other on the phone when we get a free minute – which we do… Sometimes. But it’s just friction – that just makes it less likely to happen. Instead, we end up stewing on it, and we all know that’s not healthy, for me, you, or the company.

The bottom line: I miss fighting because I worry we’re not building deep creative solutions nor our conflict resolution muscles. Arguments used to be resolved faster, and we used to better for having them. Going through the process of disagreements to resolution in person helps build more optimal decisions and strong bonds between all of us. It’s how we persevere through the tough times. Now we have fewer opportunities to do so. As leaders, we need to enable our companies and teams to grow, and maybe that means a bit more conflict. 

Let’s face it, in many organizations remote will never be ideal, but there are some things we could do to add more time, space, and expectations for real, honest to goodness, arguments… and actually resolving them. For a start, cap meetings at 25 or 50 minutes- many companies used to use this to give people a little breathing room between meetings. In a remote setting we thought maybe we didn’t need that breathing room, but let’s reconsider. (We all learned in the physical world to pad our calendars for walking didn’t we?) A second thought, prioritize argument resolution in your day – it sounds mundane, but keep tabs on your debates and track down the important ones too and see them through before the end of the day. Even if that means ANOTHER meeting or at least a phone call! Let’s get creative. If we’re going to be remote or hybrid for the long haul, we’d better make it work for us.

So here’s to a few more arguments in the next year! [Side note: Maybe a new Zoom feature is due soon: Argument mode ;)]