How distant is distant?

I’ve been working with groups for years, helping them improve how they work together.
The question of geography often comes up as a barrier to working together.
When I probe, ‘geography’ can mean many things – one team in London, one in LA; a remote outpost in the North, core team down South; or even ‘well, there’s that pillar in the way so we can’t see each other’.
I was reminded of this recently when someone told me recently that the term ‘face to face’ as opposed to ‘virtual’ is no longer recommended – because, well, Skype or Zoom calls are face to face – so it’s ‘in the same place’ and distant’.
But how do groups actually experience these terms?
I’ve worked with teams a great geographical distance apart who are very close.
And I’ve worked with groups in the same room who are very distant.
When it comes to virtual, at-a-distance, not-in-the-same-geographical-space working I think that we tend to default to a deficit model. What are we used to doing physically face to face that we can’t do at a distance?
At a recent meeting of practitioners the usual suspects all came out – can’t read the body language, lousy audio, time zones, technology problems.
But doesn’t virtual offer the opportunity to make connections we never could before?
People who are too busy, ill, disabled, poor or nervous to travel can make connections from their homes or office bases.
No one need know your ethnicity, age, physical state, possibly even gender, and certainly not whether you are wearing pyjamas.
On the other hand everyone can participate in a way that works for them. Using asynchronous as well as synchronous methods even means you can get involved at a time that works for you.
Good, well-facilitated, inclusive, properly planned meetings at a distance offer an escape from all the problems of meeting in person: travel time and cost, lousy meeting rooms, diabolical coffee, the need to make eye contact with strangers.
So everyone who runs meetings at a distance has a responsibility to make sure that they are well-facilitated, inclusive, and properly planned.
How to do that is another question.

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