Can We Go Without Face-to-Face Interaction?

While Covid-19 certainly has brought about an entire new realm for the world in multiple ways, the necessity of in-person human involvement, shall we say, has been evolving now for some time. The digital age has been seeing processes once managed by humans go the way of bots or something other robotic process automation. Cars are driverless, virtual classrooms have been increasing in popularity and who really goes into their bank anymore to handle transactions?

Arguably the most or certainly one of the most impacted industries in the digital era has been retail as we know (or knew) it. Today’s teens don’t see the allure of going to the mall on a Friday night to spend hours walking the floors wit friends, popping into stores to spend our allowance and sitting in the food court trying to look cute. You can meet your next date without leaving the comfort of your own living room and you get where I’m going with all of this.

So what have we seen now with the literal hostile takeover by the virus known as corona? Suddenly our schools had no choice but to shutter, as did our shopping malls and cinemas. It took away our ability to congregate at a restaurant and our favorite watering hole, while church gatherings and the seemingly innocent child’s birthday party have become forbidden ground. And if that weren’t enough, it’s taken away many of our outside options as well.

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In the business world, many important industry events have fallen victim to the pandemic, though their creators are responding by going digital. SIA’s own Executive Forum was cancelled last month, with many sessions being made available virtually. And just last week, SAP’s Sapphire in the US, scheduled for mid-May in Orlando, was cancelled and is transitioning to a digital experience.

What will come of our beliefs on the value of face-to-face interactions and the role they play in our education, entertainment, work lives and so on? If we can move a conference comprising keynote speakers, customer demonstrations, business meetings and endless “happy hours” of 50,000 plus to a digital platform, what else is soon to follow?

Brick-and-mortar retail was already on its knees. Education is constantly evolving; the cost of a traditional college education is prohibitive, and has been for some time. Companies that were never set up to mobilize a remote workforce learned a fast and hard lesson here. Does this change how we move forward in the Covid-19 afterlife? And is that the end of the world as we know it or just a new chapter in our story?

While I certainly don’t have all of those answers, one thing I know for certain is that while we may have gained more experience through this on what additional can be ‘replaced’ with digital, it will never substitute the basic need all humans have, and that is the need to connect with one another through a hug, to feel secure, and to feel love … and I’m just not sure there will ever be a digital medium for that.

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Tricia Bielinski
Tricia Bielinski is global HR director, K2 Partnering Solutions Ltd.

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