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Relationships in a Flat World

Written by: Bill Sherman on Thursday, 28 February 2008, 10:08 PM

Recently, my father and I had a conversation about the difference between his experience in the workplace and mine.

My father graduated college and went to work as a high-school librarian in Cicero, Illinois (one of the close-in suburbs of Chicago). Throughout his career, the school served immigrants as they came to the U.S. When he started teaching, most of the students were Czech and Slovak, but over the decades new groups of immigrants came and moved through the system. My father commuted every day of his career–from the suburbs to the school and back again. Yet, he worked his entire career–with one school district. He developed a deep understanding of the school and its students, and he worked alongside them day after day.

By comparison, as a consultant, I shift from project to project and client to client. I have a depth of experience–but across many different companies. I work for a virtual company, which means that I spend more time interacting with clients and colleagues by e-mail and phone. Sometimes, it can be a year or more between face-to-face visits. Yet, I am deeply connected with people in San Jose, New York, Ft. Lauderdale, and even rural Texas and Virginia. They are sometimes more relevant to my life than my next-door neighbors.

We live in an increasingly flat nation and world. We can interact with people virtually, but just because the communication is easier it doesn’t make relationship building any easier. It takes extra effort to build and sustain a long-distance relationship (personal or professional). Many of the skills that work within the traditional workplace community require a different mindset when you can’t walk into someone’s office.

I’m starting a list of mindsets and skillsets you’ll need to develop and nurture these relationships. Stay tuned!

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