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Nothing can replace face-to-face meeting

By François de la Chevalerie | | Updated: 2020-10-19 10:41
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A woman works at home during the COVID-19 outbreak in Sassenheim, Netherlands, Oct 2, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Humanity is experiencing scary times today. Among many difficulties, COVID-19 has dramatically impeded direct communication that has led to negative economic consequences. The lack of face-to-face meetings fosters a climate of a substantial misunderstanding that could be detrimental to any business development. At the end, everything appears to become more difficult and more complicated.

How to fix this big mess, especially if the situation lingers on? For many, the broadening of telecommuting is the right answer. Some have boastfully declared that this alternative futurist option is a gold mine. As far as my own experiences during videoconferences go, I have noted that the attendee's concentration is a bit fuzzy. At times, we don't know which came first: the human or the machine. In addition, laborious translations interfere negatively. At the end, telecommuting is obviously a useful tool of our time but it works partially.

Nothing can replace the magic of eye-to-eye contact, particularly for complex industries topics such as those of the environment, renewable energy or the health sector. Face-to-face meetings and immediate interaction are almost indispensable. Sites visits are the key and mandatory step toward further discussion. There is no substitute for warm and welcoming evenings among future partners during unforgettable dinner party. That boosts one's confidence to go even farther and to become more fully involved.

At the beginning of any industrial and commercial cooperation, the top priority is to understand one another in particular through an in-depth knowledge of tradition, culture and history. This old saying everything starts from the man and the man is the centre or everything. Later, if the things go well, telecommuting can take over.

Today, in view of the immensity of the tasks ahead to give a new impetus to the world cooperation, we need to get back to such practice that has been going on since the dawn of time. See each other, understand each other, be in tune with each other and then do business. Otherwise, make the things easy. Accordingly, many misperceptions and prejudices will be discarded in the long run. This requires that government help companies get their teams back on the road doing business.

Due to the COVID-19, sanitary protocols must be followed under strict conditions. That's indisputable. However, according to my observation, the quarantine measure makes mostly impossible for a businessman to attend a meeting or a conference in a foreign country. He simply cannot afford to stay there 14 days plus the time required for professional gatherings. In general, a business trip lasts three to seven days. Twenty days is technically impossible.

Thus, many abandon their business projects. Concern from all quarters comes, beginning with the trade through to the industries. This view has spread throughout the business community. This common feeling is a fertile soil to give up initiatives. Many are less likely to undertake projects. No wonder many simply give up before even trying. It should have been the other way around. In a context of a crisis for a long time, we need to rally together all forces.

Accordingly, a middle way should be found between the comprehensible health requirements and the possibility to attend direct meeting. Specific secure areas should be determined. A swifter procedure may be considered. At the end, the current regulatory measures need to be simplified. In the same spirit, calls for international collaboration should be urgently relaunched. The subjects are many ranging from environmental protection to the technologies of the future. As climate change threatens to result in rising sea levels and others environmental disasters, action is needed quickly. At this point, the world survival can't wait any longer. Accordingly, strong measures should be taken to bring back together entrepreneurs from all over the world in the same room in the form of a face-to-face meeting.

François de la Chevalerie is Member of the Foundation Charles de Gaulle.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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