More and more, people from American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) are hitting the road again for work-related trips, demonstrating we can safely return to business travel. We spoke to Diego Panella, director of strategy and business development based in Miami, who recently attended an event in Dallas co-hosted by GBT, American Airlines, and Hyatt Hotels, entitled #BacktoBlueSkies, to find out how his experience was.

Q. How did you get “travel ready” for this event/trip?

A. One of the key things about getting #TravelReady is about instilling traveler confidence. It’s not that we forgot how to travel, but we are being overly cautious to make sure we’re ready.

Since there’s so much information out there about COVID protocols, I went to our trip curator, Travel Vitals™, to double-check all the travel requirements, such as mask mandates and quarantine requirements.

I also checked about the dress code for the meeting – it’s been so long since we’ve met in person. I spoke to a few of my colleagues who were going as well about it. We created a group chat to exchange tips and information.

I was so excited to be going out on the road again that I packed three days in advance. Usually, it’s the night before.

Q. What was the dynamic like when you were reunited with your co-workers?

A. It was incredible. This was the first time I was seeing my co-workers from the consulting and supplier relations teams since the pandemic.

The energy in the room was palpable. Everybody was just so happy to be there. Just being in the same room, exchanging ideas, it’s much more interactive and personal. You can’t replicate that with Zoom.

Most of the people I met at this conference were new to me. A lot of them I had spoken to before but had not seen in person, so it was great putting a real face to the name.

When working in a virtual environment, it’s hard to develop a true relationship. Once you’ve met them in person and get a feel for them, you understand them and are more inclined to help them in the future. If you haven’t met the person in real life, you think, “Well, I like John enough, but hmm…” But now that I’ve met John and see he’s a great person, I’ll go out of my way to help him.

Q. How is meeting in person different than meeting virtually?

A. No matter how good of a presenter you are, when it’s a virtual environment, it’s hard for you to gauge people’s reactions and if what you’re saying is resonating – to understand if you’re going too deep, too shallow, or if it’s time to move on.

There’s even a study that says staring at your co-workers’ faces on Zoom is triggering a fight-or-flight response in us. And that’s why people tend to multitask. You just can’t stare that long at something that is two-dimensional. So, it was great to be three-dimensional, again – four-dimensional if you include feelings.

Q. What did you realize you miss most about meeting in person?

A. The personal chit-chat. When you go from Zoom to Zoom, you don’t have that buffer to catch up. And some of those sidebar conversations are when new ideas come out and you discuss personal life. They humanize people again.

It’s also all the intangibles you get from being in person that I miss – how they look at you, how their body language is, how they position themselves, even their handshake.

What’s not said is often more important than what is said. You can only get a feel for that when you’re in an in-person meeting.