Why we should still value face-to-face communication in the workplace
With communication in the workplace continuing to change rapidly, we now have an unprecedented capacity for interaction across the globe. And as a result, the daily routine for many workers involves a considerable amount of screen time.
To demonstrate just how quickly things have changed, email came into general use approximately twenty years ago, and the first Apple smartphone went to market in 2007. It’s difficult to imagine both our working and personal lives without these tools now, yet we are still in the infancy of understanding how to optimise the advantages they bring, and the impact they are having on our productivity and wellbeing.
With this focus on screen time at work, the millennial workforce is craving opportunities for face-to-face interaction and collaboration. The question is how to build meaningful face-to-face interactions into the working day, without using precious time unnecessarily.
Benefits of face-to-face communication
1. Body language
According to research, 93% of communication occurs nonverbally, through body language and tone of voice. Only the remaining 7% is communicated through words. This shows how much we are missing out on when using email and messaging platforms instead of talking to each other face-to-face.
While employees can use instant messaging platforms to ask each other quick questions, it is important to be aware that much of what is said is lost, and misunderstandings could easily happen without talking things through in person.
2. Relationship building
In the early, formative stages of a relationship, face-to-face communication is essential for building a connection and trust between two individuals.
First impressions really count. It takes only milliseconds to make an initial judgement on somebody new, and reading nonverbal cues plays a huge role in this process. This means that meeting face-to-face is very important for building a better-informed connection between two parties. Without it, a relationship can develop, but the depth of connection and level of trust will be limited.
3. Valuing each other
When two individuals take the time out of their day to meet with each other, this shows a commitment from both parties to give their attention to the conversation. The full range of communications can be picked up, and a better connection built. If it is a difficult conversation involving conflict, but both parties have good intentions, this will come across much more easily in a face-to-face interaction than in an email.
If you are meeting with a new client, a meeting face-to-face shows that you have committed your time, effort and money to building a relationship with them. With information and demands on our time coming at us from so many different places, we are now living in what is described as an attention economy. Now, more than ever, your efforts to meet up won’t go unnoticed.
4. Efficiency boost
How to use time effectively is the question on every manager and employee’s mind in the digital age. It can be so easy to get carried away and distracted by the onslaught of information, finding ways to be more productive are like gold dust.
Although it may seem more time-consuming to meet with people face-to-face, it can actually improve efficiency in the long run. Instead of writing ten emails back and forth, your conversation could be resolved in a matter of minutes over a coffee - much more enjoyable! You will also gain all the additional benefits of having taken the time to meet, so it’s a win win.
If physical distance isn’t a limitation, meeting in person is almost always preferable. When working remotely, or with team mates from different locations, video-conferencing is a convenient way for employees to discuss, plan, and build positive working relationships.
5. Protects confidentiality
Sometimes, we need to share information that is only meant for one other person. Meeting in a private setting can build trust between two individuals, particularly when the information you need to talk about is sensitive. This way, you know that only you and the person you are talking to have heard the information - as long as there’s nobody behind you eavesdropping!
Facilitating meaningful interactions
Although the advantages of face-to-face communication are clear, some interactions are better than others. Research shows that 92% of attendees choose to multitask during group meetings, meaning they are neither using their time productively, nor gaining many of the benefits quality interaction can bring.
Alternatively, one-to-one meetings can increase productivity. Instead of two employees emailing each other back and forth all day, which breaks the flow of the conversation and focus on other projects, a similar conversation could be had in a half hour meeting, without the interruptions.
Many organisations are now setting up their offices to give employees full ownership over their workspace. These changes have come in to meet the needs of the millennial workforce, who are looking for more opportunities to engage with their team members. The ‘co-working’ set-up is now favoured, giving employees the option to work independently or collaboratively as they see fit, rather than having to work at the same cubicle everyday next to somebody they don’t always need to interact with.
If you find that there isn’t much need to catch up in the line of work you do, meetings don’t always have to be work focused to be productive. Coffee catch ups, walks and meals with colleagues all contribute to morale and give you all the benefits of communicating in person.
Perhaps the best way forward is striking a balance between online and face-to-face communication. Think about the kind of conversation you need to have and adjust accordingly. That way you won’t miss out on the advantages of the different methods available.
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