Journally Speaking: The virtual office

Oil & Gas Journal started working from home Mar. 13, 2020.

It’s easier for us than for participants in many other industries. We deal almost entirely in words and images, all of which are now transmitted electronically, not just in their final version but at each step of the process.

Being in the office together with one’s colleagues, however, has its benefits. It helps build and maintain a sense of community and common purpose and over time allows at least the possibility of getting to know one another as people.

It also fosters innovative collaboration. Sure, a great idea can be generated by an individual sitting alone and thinking. But more frequently they instead spring out of two or more people in the same room talking.

Fleshing that idea out and successfully integrating it across an enterprise also requires collaboration. This can occur electronically, particularly given the plethora of web-based meeting platforms. But those meetings lack the kinetic energy of being in the same space with one’s collaborators. The connection that allows (or forces) people to fully embrace the process is missing, interfered with by the interface.

Pressing the flesh

Perhaps the starkest example of in-person interaction’s superiority is the tradeshow floor. In a time well before COVID-19 and the crude oil price war (but also just months ago), I had the opportunity to travel to the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference, ADIPEC. The front-of-mind topic back in November 2019 was whether Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering would finally happen and if so, what its valuation would be.

My journey to ADIPEC included a trip to Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.’s (ADNOC) headquarters. ADNOC invited about a dozen international journalists to spend half a day hearing about its prowess in oil’s dawning digital age. The company’s abilities and ambition were impressive, its stated mission being not just to become a leader in the digital oil field but to establish itself in the digital technology marketplace as a supplier to the industry at large. After our tour and briefings, we enjoyed a delicious Emirati lunch with our hosts near the very top of ADNOC’s imposing headquarters, then went on our way.

Anybody witnessing the press gaggle from outside would likely have been struck by the wide variety of personalities captured under the label ‘journalist.’ We have a shared desire to learn and to share that knowledge with the world at large, but that’s about where the similarities end. Some of us go through the world with a studied superiority, others with such disheveled seeming vacantness that it’s hard to believe someone let us into the building, much less the executive lunch room. Most lie somewhere in between.

On this trip, I hit it off with two journalists in particular, one from India and one from London. I’ve been corresponding with both since and so far we’re all navigating the post-corona, post-price war world in good health. I even had the good fortune to get together with one of them for beers here in Houston immediately after March’s Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting.

We chatted about life in general and traded views regarding what transpired in Vienna and what OPEC and Russia might do next. But we also spent some time talking shop and sharing approaches. In short, we collaborated.

The oil and gas industry will gather again soon enough, each of our professional circles overlapping and interweaving anew. In the meantime, spend some energy reaching out to those you’ve met in travels past. They’re likely facing their own version of the situation you are and will enjoy the camaraderie of dealing with it together. You might even learn from each other. But either way, your bond will be stronger when next you do business.