December 1, 2020

Talk the Walk: Building Professional Connections During a Pandemic

Rachel Hillman
VP, Client Service

As VP, Client Service, the foundation of my role at treetree is to build relationships with our clients, serving as consultant, thought partner and help desk.

My calendar used to be booked solid with coffees, lunches and happy hours. I looked forward to these opportunities to connect with our clients, to hear what was going on in their lives and on their teams, and genuinely develop meaningful relationships.

Then came lockdown. Our agency quickly pivoted to working remotely, and we got busy helping our clients reframe their sales strategies and creative deliverables to match the state of the state.

I had to pivot, too. As March turned to April, and April to May, I realized I had to get up and out from behind my laptop.

I missed human connection. I missed my clients.

How could I live out treetree’s purpose—to inspire a higher standard for human relationships—without spending actual in-person time with these humans?

So, for my health and for the clients who trust us, I got moving.

Socially distant, masked, outside and moving

I created a special little meeting format I called “Walk & Talk.” Socially distant, masked, outside and moving. My goal was not only to connect about the work and ensure treetree was delivering a superior level of service and product. But, maybe even more importantly, it was also to extend a virtual hand of care in case my clients were feeling the way I was feeling—a bit depressed, isolated, confused, worried.

Turns out, they were.

And they were just as tired of staring at their own faces on Zoom as I was. Before I knew it, a few invitations turned into dozens of meetups.

A new meaning to business casual

Removing the formality of sitting across a desk, our business casual attire and the social norms of the office was the catalyst to sharing each other’s most honest and vulnerable experiences since March. And although we’ve known for decades that health experts have encouraged walking as a way of improving physical health, recent research shows how walking can improve productivity, as well.

We went for Walk & Talks in my Bexley neighborhood, the metro parks, Franklin Park Conservatory and some of our clients’ neighborhoods. We endured blazing heat, got caught in massive thunderstorms, saw wildlife, heard the wind blow and crunched on newly dried leaves. We talked about struggles at work, tips for getting through at home, binge-worthy shows, pets, workouts, recipes, meditation, managing in-laws, loss of team cohesion, loss of sales, loss of teammates…so much loss.

But what was gained from these little excursions has proven to be invaluable.

Human connection always wins

Human connection and shared experiences (even masked and with 6 feet of separation) always wins. Zoom and Slack and Teams and Google Meet are all great and have most likely saved countless companies. But getting up and out of your office, cubicle, corner of the kitchen or whatever defines your workspace now and in the future is how you build relationships that last.

I’m already pondering how to maintain Walk & Talks as the temperatures take a dive. Maybe there will be hot chocolate and, if we’re lucky, some fluffy snow.

Ready to take a walk with me? Email [email protected].