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Five people in zoom meeting

Why online interaction’s better than you think

Friday, May 07, 2021 @ 9:41 AM | By Evert Akkerman

Evert Akkerman %>
Evert Akkerman
Even before the pandemic hit, the discussion around the pros and cons of flex work and working from home (WFH) or working from anywhere (WFA) raged. In February 2013, Marissa Mayer, then the new head of Yahoo, decided to summon all remote employees back to the office. Her goal was to create a more connected workforce and drive collaboration and innovation: “We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

In a May 2020 article in The New Yorker, Cal Newport referred to Yahoo and wrote that face-to-face interactions help people bond, saying, “the richness of in-person interaction is irreplaceable.” Newport pointed out that, during the Second World War, American and British commanders crossed the Atlantic to meet in person. To establish trust, “military planners realized that being physically together mattered.”

Since the “launch” of the virtual economy in March 2020, I have considered Zoom, Hangouts and Team meetings a substitute for personal interaction, rather than an alternative. I find it awkward, and staring at screens simply doesn’t provide the same experience as meeting face-to-face. Virtual, while electronic by definition, lacks electricity. As a friend in Florida said, “There is a vacancy of the energy that boots on the ground provide.”

For this reason, I was kinda meh on Zoom sessions and resisted the switch. I clung to the hope that the pandemic would pass in a matter of weeks, and then things would return to normal. Not quite. When the realization sunk in that virtual was the future and that I had better make the most of it, I settled in and worked with it. I started looking for the benefits: instead of a threat, could the additional layer of virtual be of value to my HR practice? I didn’t exactly need to embrace it, but I could make it part of my daily routine at some level.

As part of my prep for a recent panel discussion, I compared the success rate of recruitment processes I had been part of pre-pandemic to processes post-March 2020. I was surprised to see that the “before” success rate was a bit over 80 per cent, while the “during” rate has been 92 per cent. So, while the in-person exchange disappeared, the quality of the recruitment and selection process, apparently, improved. Da-yum!

I thought about this intriguing stat for a few days. Apparently, being forced to take one factor out of the process — a factor I had always considered crucial — had increased the likelihood of picking the right person. How did this happen? It can only be because the personal click is missing. We reduce the role of unconscious bias and remove the random factor of vibing with certain people and not with others. We get better outcomes when decisions are based less on likes and dislikes, and more on objective factors like knowledge, skills and talent … without a candidate’s charm clouding a lack of it. Technology may be aimed at bringing people closer but maybe it pushes us a bit further apart, thereby allowing a clearer perspective and better decisions.

On reflecting further, I also realized that remote (net)working had been part of my practice as an independent for many years: I had collaborated with clients, contacts, service providers and account managers I had never met in person, and it had turned out just fine. In a different realm, I had been buying and selling items on eBay since 2008, transacting with people I had never met and would never meet.

While our connectivity has changed, networking and doing business is still a matter of authenticity. Since coming to Canada in 1999, I have connected and kept in touch with countless people. If business comes of it, great, and if it doesn’t, that’s perfectly fine too — I’ll still enjoy the coffee and the stories. And people always pick up on this: I’m genuinely interested in building the relationship. It may someday also lead to business but there’s no agenda towards this.

A while ago, my friend Hilary offered this rule of thumb: “Add value to your network; make 90 per cent of your activities about your interest in other people, and 10 per cent about you and what you do.” We can carry this approach forward, regardless of the platform we stand on.

Evert Akkerman is an HR professional based out of Newmarket, Ont., and founder of XNL HR. He can be reached at

Photo credit /  Zodchiy ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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