There is No Substitute for Connecting In Person


There is No Substitute for Connecting In Person

“Loves to travel. Social butterfly. Constantly trying out new restaurants, local arts and community events.” For those of you who’ve taken a survey that asks for your interests/personality, these are all phrases I would use to describe myself. Which is why it should come as no surprise that the lockdown last spring, and subsequent shut-down of so many social events over the past year, were soul-crushing for me. 

As our industry and society continue to evolve into a digitized world, I hope we don’t lose sight of the value of human connection.

I can distinctly remember being in denial for a solid month or two that things were going to come back to “normal” by the Fourth of July. Boy, was I wrong. With each additional concert cancellation, trade show transitioned to virtual, family visit postponed and rising fears and quarantining measures, my hope dwindled.

Thank goodness I had a select few in my bubble I could still be with during the beginning months of the pandemic, or I don’t know how I would have coped! Now, I know this has been a topic of discussion for a while now, and perhaps you’re “over it,” but stick with me.

If there’s one prevailing lesson I’ve taken away from this past year, it’s that there really is no substitute for in-person connection and actually physically being together. I can honestly say that I would never have thought prior to March 2020 that I’d learn what it means to appreciate, and not take for granted, being able to spend time with other humans in person.

I’ve been incredibly impressed with how quickly we were able to adapt the way we communicate by using Zoom meetings. We’ve maintained effectiveness while working remotely and businesses that are thriving because of their savvy to shift to ecommerce and online modes. Humans really are adaptable creatures, and the way we’ve pivoted is a feat.

However, creating virtual methods of communicating as the only way of socializing and collaborating, cannot and will not ever replace the connection that happens in person.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been in Toastmasters for almost four years and have developed my communication skills tremendously since my first day. For those of you who don’t know, Toastmasters is an international non-profit organization, with clubs all over the world, where people meet weekly to practice public speaking. 

When the pandemic hit, I was our club’s president, and it was a tough decision, but I chose to keep our meetings virtual through June, when my term ended. Unfortunately, we lost a large chunk of our club, and as one of the highest-achieving clubs in our district, this was not the norm. 

But think about it, how can you practice public speaking on Zoom? It’s really not the same. There is something distinct about standing in front of a room full of people giving a prepared 5–7-minute presentation…the nerves alone make a difference! From experience, while I may still be nervous to speak on a Zoom call, it isn’t as challenging or developmental as physically being in a room with my peers in front of me. Not to mention, feeling the audience’s engagement, interest and energy.

Another example: I lead a weekly Bible study and we were on Google Hangouts for the two months our state was under lockdown. Then as soon as June hit and the regulations loosened up a bit, you better believe we were back in person! The banter, discussion, connection and community were night-and-day from being on a screen to having everyone in my living room. The same could be said of actually being able to be back in church since August. Golly, having that community as part of my week has really livened my spirits and brought me hope.

I can even tell a difference being back in the office at Parker. Zoom fatigue is definitely a thing, and while I can appreciate a hybrid working environment, to be completely virtual indefinitely would be challenging. The excitement and ideas that bubble up from being in the same space, sitting around our conference table, popping into or passing by each other’s offices periodically, just weren’t matched when we were purely online while WFH.

Which brings me to my last experience: industry trade shows. Our parking associations did a tremendous job being nimble this past year, either transitioning to virtual platforms or refunding or transferring show fees to this year. But let me tell you, I am SO ready to be at a show this year! PIE 2021 in Dallas…here I come!

I’m sure you see the common thread here. As our industry and society as a whole continue to innovate and evolve into a digitized world, I hope we don’t lose sight of the value of human connection, especially in-person. In addition to safety and health reasons for distancing and isolating this past year, the political turmoil and social unrest, in a lot of ways, disconnected us more than I’ve experienced in my lifetime. 

It takes us coming together as community to shape what this new societal context will look like, and I for one, hope a big part of that includes in-person gatherings, as I think we need that now more than ever. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially having booked my first vaccine shot today, and am optimistic that we’ll be more resilient and stronger because of this paradigm shift Covid has caused. Here’s to a bright future and seeing all of you in July!

Heidi Barker is Sr. Director of Marketing & Sales Ops at Parker Technology. She can be reached at

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