By Jaime Vos, Director of AEM's Safety Materials Program

For over the last year, like many people, I’ve been working remotely. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 forced everyone to be flexible, adjust and learn new skills to manage their workloads. In many cases, employees found themselves completely separated from their coworkers, vendors and customers, yet still required to collaborate and move business forward.

During this time, technology was the lifeline that kept us connected; virtual meetings, video chats and, in some instances, entire conferences became the norm as organizations struggled to adapt. “Business as usual” was anything but.

Eighteen months later, we find ourselves having to adapt once again.

Upon recently coming back to the office on a regular schedule, I was a little anxious to reconnect with my co-workers in AEM’s Safety & Product Leadership Department. I hadn’t seen many of them in person for over a year, and it made me wonder if we had lost any of our social skills. We had certainly been engaged in many online meetings, but I wondered about the nuances of in-person conversation and work-related discussions. Would our personal interactions be as easy, efficient and productive as our web meetings had been?

After engaging in an informal conversation with a co-worker last week, however, I realized we were both longing for personal connection and idea sharing. What should have been a brief chat about a recent project turned into a 20-minute brainstorming session outside my work cube. We quickly learned the power and intensity of our personal dialogue was much more meaningful, time-efficient and purpose-driven. I was pleasantly surprised when we both walked away from the discussion re-energized and excited to move the initiative forward.   

But the exchange did cause me to wonder: Has the luster of online meetings worn off? And more importantly, does connecting virtually have the same power to motivate people as face-to-face collaboration does?

Having recently participated in a virtual Safety & Product Leadership meeting with many of our members, these questions became even more relevant.

I found that most of us were craving the in-person meetings once again, and that we were diligently planning to make those happen soon. We all knew that discussing safety standards and regulations could certainly be done through a virtual platform, but after listening to our committee members speak, I realized that many of them still preferred to sit in the same room with their peers to share ideas and find solutions.

Which poses the question: Have our industry’s safety efforts been hindered by too much online dialogue and too many virtual meetings?

The power of AEM’s Safety & Product Leadership committees has always been the personal commitment of coming together in the interest of safety. But I wondered if any of our initiatives had been dramatically slowed by using only technology. Traditionally, our committees meet in person multiple times during the year to discuss the standards and regulations related to making equipment safer for end users. While technology provides equal access for members to join in those discussions, many members said they had missed the camaraderie, the interpersonal connection that fueled their discussions during in-person meetings.

There are certainly logistics that our member companies will have to consider when planning in-person meetings again: travel budgets, local health guidelines, space availability and employee workload. However, I truly believe we will all experience a “boost” of interpersonal collaboration in the coming months when we meet in-person. People are hungry to get together and share topics that are important to our industry.

I guess it should come as no surprise. Human beings are hard-wired to connect, collaborate and share ideas. It is the foundation of interpersonal relations and team building within all organizations. AEM’s Safety & Product Leadership committees know this firsthand. They value their AEM membership, the strength of our safety programs and the power of togetherness.

Here’s looking forward to working together in person soon once again.

AEM supports safety awareness year-round by offering an extensive array of safety products, including safety manuals and videos, with major equipment types covering aerial, agriculture, compact/portable, earthmoving, forestry, lifting, road paving and utility excavation applications.

Click here to see the complete line of AEM safety materials or visit safetymaterials.org.

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