BY Fast Company Contributor 3 MINUTE READ

As someone who works at a digital-first organisation, it’s been incredible to see how the past two years have accelerated digital transformation across Africa. With strict social distancing measures in place, especially in the early parts of the pandemic, organisations had no choice but to find new ways of working and move operations online. Those organisations that managed the change effectively have thrived.

I myself have benefited from the host of technologies that make seamless meeting and collaboration across borders possible. There is no way I would be able to connect with people in multiple countries around the continent on a daily basis if I was relying on in-person meetings. But on a trip to Kenya at the tail end of 2021, I was reminded that in-person meetings still have a place and may even be helpful in accelerating Africa’s digital transformation.

The power of in-person

Over the course of just a few meetings, bonds were strengthened and long-standing reservations were easily resolved. Even though it only lasted a few days, the trip was a powerful reminder of why in-person business is crucial, even for digital organisations.

There is, for example, a richness and openness to physical conversations that simply cannot be matched online. We are, by nature, social creatures and meeting people in person helps facilitate a sense of empathy from the get-go.

A physical presence also lets you experience what conditions are like on the ground in the communities where organisations operate. In Africa, this is especially critical for digital organisations. Someone can tell you that internet speeds are patchy in a particular location or that a mobile-first approach is necessary but experiencing those things for yourself gives you a much greater level of insight.

Similarly, speaking face-to-face with people can give you a much better sense of where an organisation is on its digital transformation journey (as much a mindset shift as the adoption of new technologies and processes) and where they feel its digital experiences could improve. That’s especially true for large organisations, where a lot of investigative work may be required to figure out what silos need to be broken in order for it to provide real, transformative digital experiences.

A hybrid future?

That’s not to say online meetings and virtual collaboration aren’t important. The opposite is true. There is, after all, a reason that remote work is consistently shown to improve productivity. It’s also true that some people just collaborate better in virtual environments, where they may feel less restricted in sharing their ideas.

And with an increasing number of African companies doing business internationally, online tools allow international teams to work together on projects, no matter where they’re located. This includes not only tools for communication but also robust digital platforms for collaboration and automation like digital workplaces. That, in turn, means that the best people within an organisation can work together on something, rather than just the best people in a particular location.

The ideal, then, may well be a blend of online and in-person meetings. Just as the future of work seems not to be fully remote, nor fully in-office, but a blend of the two, so the future of meetings could be a hybrid of virtual and in-person. And, as travel restrictions continue to ease up, achieving that hybrid balance will become simpler to achieve too.

Accelerating Africa’s digitalisation

There is no doubt that organisations across Africa are embracing digital transformation and looking to provide world-class digital experiences. There are even people who argue that the continent could leapfrog other markets on this front.

Many companies across the continent have made significant strides in their digital transformation journey over the past two years. But in that time, we’ve also learned the importance of flexibility and adaptability. And if African organisations are to thrive, they need to find the best possible flexible balance between online and in-person meetings and collaboration.

Greg Gatherer, Account Manager, Liferay Africa