The Virtual Reality

by Christian Muche
11 May, 2021

Christian Muche is the “The International Voice” of F10. From his experience, observations and countless conversations with global thought leaders, he paints the Big Picture. What are the necessary consequences of the ever-changing consumer world, a stuttering economy and new expectations after the pandemic? In his newest column, Christian Muche explains why he foresees a new kind of virtual reality

Key Takeaways

  • No going back. The future of business relationships will be increasingly virtual, even as the COVID-19 pandemic starts to come to an end;  
  • We will reinvent. Companies who will try to go back to traditional face-to-face models are headed for failure;
  • Go big or go (from) home. Bigger events will stay face-to-face for entertainment purposes, but go digital for business and trade;
  • Virtual over travel. We now have a more convenient and environmentally friendly way to maintain international partnerships;
  • Connection will stay relevant. Face-to-face contact will not disappear completely, because it helps us build empathetic relationships with our co-workers and partners.

As the shift beyond remote living and working seems within reach, I started to muse on how our virtual existence has changed the way we work and interact with employees, clients… Whole business networks that many of us have never met before. Reflecting on the past year and looking ahead, I started to think about the future of work, industry events and business relationships.

The question has been nagging me for almost five months. What are Natascha, Joey, Mags or Pallavi like in a face-to-face conversation? How would we all perform and harmonize together locked in a conference room for a full-day workshop?

Let’s begin with who Natascha, Claus, Joey, Mags, Carmen and Pallavi are. They are my co-founding partners, our Project Manager, our Junior Editor, our Designer and our Social Media Manager. We decided to start our Business Boutique venture CURAZE a few months ago, and I currently spend several hours a day with them in virtual meetings and on calls. You would think I’d have a clue who they are in real life? Yes and no.

Such is life in a pandemic. Such is life on Planet Zoom.

I am going to meet them and many others in person in the not-too-distant future, and learn the answer to my questions. But there might be members of our extended team whom I will always know and admire only by virtue of virtual. I have plenty of friends who are CEOs, CMOs and every other possible title, who have taken on new roles and started to run different companies in the past year without meeting a single colleague in the flesh.

Perhaps this is the future of work.

As vaccines hit arms and herd immunity moves within reach, the opportunity to move past remote living and working is going to be real. Face-to-face will be feasible and prudent again, opening (literal) doors to meetings and travel and dinners and events. I’m eager to see which opportunities will propel us into restaurants, airplanes, meeting rooms and conferences.

The last several months have certainly pushed us to change how and where we work. As we adapt to the current situation, we have been altering our fundamental habits, switching from face-to-face interactions to online connections, working remotely and conducting virtual meetings with colleagues and business partners. This shift in behavior requires us to adopt digital technologies and change our leadership role.

Even when we recover from the disruption caused by COVID-19, we are unlikely to return to the old ways of doing business. We will have evolved to a new definition of work – one that includes more digitally enabled decision-making.

“In-Person” Interaction Is Changing

How we meet “in person” in general will go through a dramatic transformation. After months of major corporate and industry events being canceled or reimagined due to the health crisis, will organizers and companies go back to the traditional model of hosting and participating in meetings, conferences, or trade shows with tens of thousands of people?

Well, many will try, but I don’t think that many will succeed. I believe companies will exercise an abundance of caution to protect the well-being of their stakeholders, employees, visitors, as well as their financial investments, and will continue to move from in-person social gatherings to more digital-first event experiences. Large, in-person conferences made sense in the past and I was at the forefront of this period, but our mindset is already changing. Moving forward, we will feel more comfortable interacting and making decisions online, without having to fly to a faraway city or gather in a conference hall with 10,000 people.

To be clear: when we think about larger entertainment events such as concerts, sport or cultural events, that will be a different story, since people yearn for amusement and excitement.

But for the business trade shows, conference and usual mass industry gatherings, it´s a different world now, and everybody who believes in the old days will be taught better like many before: in the eCommerce and retail, travel, financing, media and agency industries, and so on.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to business events. It’s become the way of making safe, smart business. Negotiations, deals, and engagements that once were locked with a physical handshake are now solidified with a virtual nod through screens and devices. It’s difficult to imagine the pendulum swinging all the way back in a post-pandemic world, with mandatory in-person conversations and industry leaders and C-levels showing up in the rooms or halls for pitch presentations or keynotes or trade booths. One thing we’ve learned for sure is that virtual works, and we also learned that virtual is pretty darn good for the planet. It is less expensive. More accommodating.

I ask myself, am I ever going to travel to the other side of the globe to attend a meeting when I can show up virtually, well-lit, and rested for the same conversation? And if a potential client gives me a partner credit to not show up live for a presentation or negotiation, and they can be convinced to join our boutique platform in the same way as in a personal discussion? These are important questions for us to answer, but I know for sure that if you have a trustful and healthy client or partner relationship, it doesn’t really matter how often we see each other on the other side of the screen or in reality. Virtual can get the job done. I call it a new virtual reality – a new composition of virtual and real connections.

Having said all of this, let me also calibrate my sentiments. I do intend to meet my co-founders and the majority of the team in person very soon and “check it up.” I will attend important meetings and events. And I will maintain my personal network contacts. I had a recent chat with a longtime business friend and she asked me how an extrovert like me deals with a hybrid existence, and if you know me, you know I’m up close and personal. I started my business by working the room, and later enjoyed the energy of a room working me.

I’ll be back in the real-world room where it happens. Certainly with less frequency, but probably with far more enthusiasm.

Photo Credit: Raimar von Wienskowski

Christian Muche is an internationally well recognized executive and business strategist operating at the intersection of digital, marketing, technology and event industries with an extensive track record for brands like AOL, YAHOO and FIFA. Christian is the co-founding partner of WUNDERGUARD and the initiator behind this new boutique consulting firm. In this role, Christian creates successful brands and design, position and support companies as well as individual global executives all over the world.

He is also the co-founder and brain behind DMEXCO, one of the leading global digital marketing event platform. With his decentralized team in Europe, he ran the day-to-day business of DMEXCO for nearly ten years till 2018. In 2019, Christian launched D:PULSE – the innovative global boutique-style conference show.

For more than 13 years Christian Muche has lived with his family in New Zealand, holds a German as well as Kiwi passport and enjoys various outdoor sports, including mountain biking, trekking and diving.

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