Valentina Doorly Examines Home-Working's Impact On Business Travel

By Emily Hourican
Valentina Doorly Examines Home-Working's Impact On Business Travel

Home-working and virtual meetings are heralding a new age of perennial distancing – one in which business travel will look eccentric – says futurologist Valentina Doorly.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in July of 2021.

I can’t keep myself from trying to anticipate how things will likely pan out and what’s next to come. Right now, for example, here in Italy, we are fast approaching the date when the mandatory regulation to wear face masks all the time – even when outdoors, walking the dog alone in the woods – will be lifted. D-Day is set for 28 June.

I am betting that about 15% of the population will struggle to comply with regained freedom from the (horrible) muzzle-covering two thirds of their faces. So deep and protracted was the mediatic terror here that a section of the population has completely lost any rational understanding of the scientific facts, entrapping itself in an irrational fear of anything that moves, including air and light.

As D-Day is 28 June, I will immediately initiate my in-the-field, anecdotal evidence-gathering, to see how many people will keep warily strolling around wearing face masks, and, of the most punitive version, at a 35C° temperature.


Similarly, I expect a dramatic change in our perception of work meetings carried out in our physical presence. After 18 months of comfortable retreat in our shells, millions of people are now accustomed to carrying out work duties wearing a decent shirt on top, ironed only on the front side, and not-so-decent pyjama pants underneath – all perfectly suitable for sitting in front of the screen and nodding graciously for a couple of hours.

Home-working is ‘smart’ in many ways – commuting time saved, energy saved (hence pollution spared), maybe more time for private life – but it’s also not smart for many other reasons. Our homes, once an extension of ourselves and a private space, have been transformed into public broadcasting studios (minus the make-up aid). Company costs for rent, utilities, and cleaning services have been shifted to the workers. People who are more vulnerable to depression are not benefitting from this new order, with calls to psychological support services skyrocketing in all European countries. The new ‘cocoon era’ may be made of many glitzy accessories, but, ultimately, it is nothing else but isolation. Our city centres, once lively with small businesses and shops, thanks to office life, are gutted and reduced to ghost towns.

Most crucially, distancing from one another and asserting that a virtual connection perfectly fits the bill of executing nearly any given task is a terrible mistake.

When we meet in person, we shake hands, we look each other in the eye, we watch our body language, and we perceive our temperatures, emanating infrared waves, with our brains working at a vibration frequency of 3Hz-17Hz (yeps). We meet with five senses – six, if you ask me.

Behind the Scenes

Behind the screens, we are reduced to one-dimensional figurines with limited time, limited topics, and a strict agenda, as prescribed by the virtualencounter etiquette. We don’t really get to know one another, do we? We don’t use our senses. We don’t derail the conversation toward unexpected directions – that’s usually when the most interesting discoveries are made.


The consequences of this widely adopted paradigm are going to be a visible and widespread loss of social skills – getting back together in person will feel awkward. We will feel exposed, clumsy, and unsure about how to unfold the conversation. Used to riskfree, at-a-distance, on-point, tunnelvision/blinkered virtual meetings, the sheer physical presence of another human being will make us uneasy. His or her tangible, three-dimensional physicality, body heat, gestures and allure will all be hard to process. Some may feel overwhelmed.

Suddenly, the notion of travelling to meet someone for work or for leisure becomes sheer madness! How to justify such a huge waste of time and money, moving atoms on the space when we could simply move bits? Visiting a client three train hours away? You must be joking, what for, if I can have him on screen in a couple of minutes?

And yet, meeting people in person is what truly develops relationships, giving them depth, taste and emotion. Our work environments are not only important for creating value and profit, but they are our main sources of friendships and networks. How many of our friends have stemmed from work relationships? Loads, and they can be of the best type, as, at work, you have the chance to see people in action and gauge the true nature of each individual, tested by circumstances and pressure, when a person’s true colours come out.

The ‘New Normal’ we are preparing is one in which Amazon delivers everything, Zoom will connect you to whomever you want to see, and Netflix will entertain you best – your preferences perfectly profiled by AI – all in your home.

Well, my friends, you can have it. I will arrange as many meetings in person as I can, shake hands vigorously more than once – at the beginning and at the end, like we used to do in the BC (Before Covid) era. I will derail the conversation towards unchartered territories, to the point of producing the juiciest ideas, and I will travel to meet people and clients, putting, yes, unreasonable time and effort towards the task – effort and time that, believe you me, are all that it takes to make a project a success and to make us human, as indeed we are.


A big hug.

Read More: Hospitality Ireland Summer 2021: Read The Latest Issue Online!