There are a couple different schools of thought when it comes to the topic of learning how to swim. As a child, I learned to swim through formalized lessons at the Erlton Swim Club of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. There were weeks of lessons where multiple instructors guided shivering young children (it was early summer, and the pool wasn’t heated) through various skillsets helping them to become master swimmers. Or, at the very least, develop enough proficiency to not screw up someone’s birthday party by being found lifeless at the bottom of their pool. 

That program represented the formalized school of thought regarding swim training for children. Even as a child I was cognizant of the alternate training theory some adults held regarding swim training. The methods of those people were much more direct and far simpler than the protocols of the Erlton Swim Club of Cherry Hill, NJ. Their entire learning curriculum could be easily summed up in one sentence.

Drive a kid to a lake and throw their ass in. If the kid didn’t learn to swim, they would just have to make another kid.

I’ve thought of these two divergent training philosophies a lot lately, and the comparison works very well for the insurance and risk management worlds; especially when it comes to the technologically driven world of virtual meetings. The insurance industry, and more specifically the workers’ compensation sector, is definitely one that firmly embraces the training philosophy of the Erlton Swim Club of Cherry Hill, NJ . 

Anything new in the workers’ compensation industry is adopted slowly and carefully, and only after years of agonizing analysis and review, preferably by a Feasibility Committee comprised of about 3/4ths of the company. Therefore, it should be no surprise that virtual meetings, also known as video conferencing or video calls, were not widely used in the industry prior to March of this year. Sure, there was the occasional Zoom meeting of divergent committees or conference planners, but the phrase “video meeting” was rarely used. The ubiquitous “conference call,” based on a technology established for over 100 years, ruled the day. 

Trying to find any substantive statistics on traditional video conference usage for our industry is almost impossible. Very little was written on the subject beyond the potential for telemedicine. One article we located, written in 2008, essentially said, “Hey, the internet is on the computer now, and we can see and talk to each other. You should set up a feasibility committee to review your options in the coming century.”

And then came COVID. Formalized training, assessment and planning were out the window. All of our asses were thrown in the lake. What a difference two months can make when you are suddenly paddling for your life. 

There was a survey released in late 2019, which did not focus on a specific industry but rather looked at a broader review of virtual meeting utilization in the US. It was called “19 Key Video Conferencing Statistics for 2020,” and it almost seems whimsical in our post-COVID reality. It found, among other things, that Only 35% of respondents have video conferencing equipment installed in all of their office conference rooms. It also found that “starting meetings” was the most frequently reported problem with video conferencing, saying “More than 50% of video conferencing users are wasting nearly 10 minutes per meeting on meeting setup, with 83% reporting that it takes more than 3 minutes to set up and start meetings.”

Today, just a few blurry months later, virtually every business computer is now its own video conferencing center. The concept of a conference room equipped with “video conferencing equipment installed” almost seems antiquated; even quaint. And while some still struggle to get those meetings started, it seems the digital delays we once endured are becoming less and less common. Virtual meetings are suddenly and unexpectedly a normal part of our day, and we have discovered that we can do more and be more effective as a result.

Life will eventually start returning to normal. Conferences will return. But industry management and event planners would be wise to remember that some things have profoundly changed, and the world of virtual communication will hold the biggest role in our new reality. 

We, as an industry and a nation, are becoming Virtual Virtuosi. It didn’t happen through an excruciating strategic planning process. It wasn’t coordinated and deployed in a careful manner. No, the philosophy of the “throw them in the water” crowd ruled the day and accomplished in mere weeks what otherwise would have been a decade or more in coming. Ultimately, that is good news for our industry. 

But unfortunately, it is not great news for the detailed swimming professionals at the Erlton Swim Club of Cherry Hill, NJ.

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