From short commutes to international travel, Thrive’s Psychosocial Director GRAHAM FAWCETT encourages us to notice the unsung benefits of travelling for work.
Over the last two years, we’ve become skilled at online meetings. We enjoy the efficiency it seems to bring. We no longer ‘waste time’ in buses, trains, cars or planes. And we can, it seems, do so much more with the time that is freed up.
However, throughout human history, a journey or pilgrimage has been meaningful in its own right. The English writer Geoffrey Chaucer began his fourteenth century book about pilgrims with this: “When in April the sweet showers fall… Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage”. He then describes a journey in detail. For him, the point was not the arrival. It was the journey.
On the other hand, in a more modern story, the main character leaves the hotel room in swimwear, goes down to the pool, buys a cocktail and settles into a comfortable chair. They then open their laptop and log-in to a therapy session. For this character, the lack of travel brings its own challenges.
In her book Screen Relations, Psychotherapist Gillian Russell considers the time and space between our routine life, and the meetings or events that we attend. She describes how when we physically move from one location to another, our minds adjust. We give the meeting to which we are travelling a greater sense of occasion and purpose. Unlike opening a screen and clicking a Zoom link, we have made an effort to be there, to think about what to wear, what to bring, how to show up.
The journey also helps our brain reset. We stop looking at the spreadsheet or email, and instead have the chance to leave the screen behind, to think about the next meeting, to catch up on the weather, sport and politics, or just stare into space.
We know by now that a meeting agenda can be accomplished online, but meetings and conferences are about more than agendas or papers. They are also about the chats. The ‘water cooler moment’. The round of drinks. The serendipity of bumping into someone on the way who can help or enhance.
“When we move physically from one location to another, our minds adjust.”
Gathering together, often in the corridor, is where the work so often happens. A thumbs up or grin from a colleague showing all is well, or a whispered conversations about the annoying budget or agenda point, all in the space outside the meeting room.
Last week, after many delays, I finally attended a conference to speak. I did not look forward to the journey – I had a lot of things to do, and hours in a car was not going to help me do them. Worse still, my seminars were only thirty minutes long.
Feeling a little resentful, I arrived to be caught up in one conversation after another, to join in chatter, and to spend an evening in remarkable conversation. None of these things would have happened without the journey.
I also noticed something that we were all dimly aware of some years ago: the grateful reaction that people had to the distance that I had travelled.
And so as we consider more hybrid approaches to our work, it may be helpful to factor in not the nuisance of a journey, but rather its value. Sometimes, it is important not to wander down to the pool, drink in hand, and log-in to the meeting. Sometimes the time spent journeying resets our minds and helps us to be fully present when we arrive.
So what about you? How are you adjusting your decision-making when it comes to gathering people together? If the reason for gathering is solely to get through an agenda, then I suggest you stick to Zoom or Teams. However, if it is to enhance team relations, serendipity and quality of thought, as well as plough through an agenda, then I suggest it’s time to dust off the travel budget. And if you need some help with the planning process, do get in touch.