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Zoom and Connection – Opinion

I have grown fond of Zoom but it’s no replacement for face-to-face meetings.

Patricia Intrieri, AIA, Principal

Can the virtual realm supplement interpersonal connections?

In this brave new world of Covid-19, our practice has adapted quickly and seamlessly to the new virtual reality of conducting business via Zoom and other video meeting platforms, which is so much better than the endless chain of emails trying to solve a problem. Video meetings, combined with Matterport and other 3D scan and photo-capture technologies, have brought our projects to us in our virtual offices. We can schedule physical reviews in distant lands with a team of clients and consultants from around the world and effectively and efficiently review the components of the project we know so well.

I would argue, however, that this only works if we have fostered relationships with our fellow clients, consultants and team over time. We all know each other and have spent time traveling, eating, arguing and designing with each together, not necessarily in that order. Sometimes we mix it up.

Fostering connections at project meetings - CambridgeSeven

I have worked internationally for over 20 years and that overseas work would not have been as successful if we had not built up personal and meaningful relationships face-to-face and over time. For our projects overseas, following a scramble from stateside charrette to long flight to arriving in our local partner’s offices, the conversation would begin slowly, focused not on the project, but on the well-being of our families and mutual friends. Was everyone healthy? Has your child started college yet? These conversations often included discussion of what was happening in our respective countries and the world. It was during these times that we would find sympathetic ears and come to understand that no matter where we lived, we could find like-minded colleagues and friends. These kinds of interactions cannot be replaced with technology, only enhanced by it.

Could Zoom or a similar technology evolve into a platform that would be a great tool for generating business or starting a project where the participants don’t know each other? Based on my own experience and the research of others in this field, I would say it will be difficult, at best. Humans are wired for connection and seek being seen, heard and valued by others. This kind of social connection is fundamental to our health and well-being. We want to know each other before we can commit to working together. It is in this desire to know to each other that we can find commitment to the collaboration, the project or the time that we will invariably be spending with each other to make something special happen.

This kind of connection can happen in an instant or over time. Can anything take the place of a chance encounter and the world of possibilities it can open? The physiological reactions we have towards each other when we meet can give us a lot of information about the other person and on a primal level. It is this information that allows us to take the next step forward with them, or not.

The business of designing and building buildings for people starts with connecting to others. Our desire to collaborate with them is born from that connection. While I believe that video meeting platforms are a powerful tool and can enhance those connections, it is unlikely that the tool can generate real connections and relationships alone.

Patti Intrieri, AIA is a Principal at CambridgeSeven who has devoted much of her career to fostering international design relationships around the globe.