Last week, I was in Chicago for a two day conference. The best part of the trip was being in the same room as many of the advocates we work with from all over the country. It was refreshing to talk, collaborate, and share ideas, without the barrier of phone or e-mail.
Also recently listened to an interview with Terri Gross, and was surprised to learn that she’s rarely in the same room as her interviewees. What? How can she possibly get such raw and honest conversation without body language cues and eye contact? (She explains here).
So, for the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole idea of “facetime” and in-person collaboration during an era when so much is accomplished remotely. While the energy in the room was palpable, I was struck by conversations with advocates who live far from their advocacy community. I assumed one national advocate lived in DC-she’s in the midwest. I assumed another lived in the capitol of the state she represented–in fact, she lives in a completely different state, a plane ride away.
As I’ve said a zillion times, what I miss most about DC (professionally) is the dynamic in-person collaboration with national advocates. That, and the constant opportunity for education: in briefings, hearings, events, there was always someone to learn from. Surely this is why I value these conferences-it’s a quick shot of the same energy. At the same time, what I enjoy most (professionally) about Oakland is chatting and brainstorming with my colleagues in the office. There is no question that being in-person fosters spontaneous collaboration and camaraderie that is difficult to obtain over e-mail or Skype.
However, given the expense of conference travel and the reality that many of us work in different states, it got me wondering about how to be more effective over long distances. We regularly use video chat for internal meetings, but I’ve never used it to meet with someone from another organization. Would that be strange? Invasive? Or more productive?
Last week I also registered for a “virtual conference,” mostly to hear the keynote address by health policy leader, but also because I was curious how the whole thing worked. Lo and behold, I had a tech glitch and missed it. Maybe a balance of virtual conferences and the real deal are the secret to more collaboration?
Oh, though, one more thing. Also been thinking a lot about Paul Ryan’s address to his caucus and his (completely understandable) concern about work-life balance with his family. Couldn’t be further from PR ideologically, but hopeful his remarks will give some bipartisan life to the discussion around paid leave and work-life challenges. Though, on the discussion of distances and collegiality, found Cokie Robert’s thoughts quite interesting.