Things have certainly changed, thanks to the coronavirus. We're all relying on phone calls and emails to stay connected rather than the face-to-face interaction we employed in the office. And everyone seems to be getting along just fine.
Or are we? While COVID-19 may have permanently changed the way many businesses function, they should be careful before dispatching with face-to-face communication altogether. There may be unforeseen consequences.
There are several questions to consider. What qualifies as face-to-face — is a Zoom call really a replacement for conversations in person? And even the lack of face-to-face meetings has downsides.
Is it worth paying the extra costs for office space to get it, or can you save a ton of money in exchange for a minimal drop in production without it?
All of these are important factors to consider as you determine what your post-pandemic business will look like. So let's discuss some of the benefits of prioritizing face-to-face contact and then delve into how you can still utilize it when working remotely.
What classifies as face-to-face communication?
Face-to-face communication refers to any conversation or dialogue between two or more individuals in which everyone can see each others’ faces.
It differs from other types of communication because people involved in the conversation can take into account social cues such as body language, tone, inflection, emphasis, energy, or anything else that might add context to the words spoken beyond what you would get in an email or even a phone call.
Face-to-face communication is the most effective means of communication because misunderstandings are less likely. This method of communication also makes it easier for people to ask follow-up questions and have the back-and-forth interaction important in brainstorming.
5 benefits of prioritizing face-to-face communication
So what are you really missing out on if your team can’t meet in person on a regular basis? Here are five key benefits to face-to-face communication.
1. Builds stronger bonds
It's easy to see that it's a human you're talking to when you're face to face, but that's not so obvious when you're firing off an email into the ether, or even just hearing a voice over the phone.
By making eye contact, noting and reacting to expressions, and playing off social cues, people in an organization form stronger bonds. They also more quickly understand each others' tendencies and personalities, making collaboration easier and therefore boosting productivity.
2. Prevents miscommunication
Miscommunication is more common with email compared to face-to-face conversations. For example, a person may put more emphasis on one task over another in a face-to-face conversation, but that might not be so obvious using email, prompting someone to misprioritize and therefore complete tasks in the wrong order.
Also, it’s easier to have a back and forth in person that enables people to flesh out a given task and allow all parties to come to a fuller understanding of what’s expected.
3. Avoids misunderstandings
Sometimes emails come off as blunt or rude when they really weren’t meant that way. That can lead to one side having hurt feelings or mistrust, while the other party is oblivious to that perception.
The result can be unnecessarily harmed relationships. One-on-one communication avoids this since people are more aware of how they come across, and things like tone or facial expression may soften the blow of what would otherwise seem like blunt language.
4. Increases productivity
People are more collaborative and more productive when they communicate face to face on a regular basis. It's easier to get things done when you can pass on a quick update on the product to a coworker a few desks over rather than firing off an email that they may not see for a couple hours.
If your team needs a lot of collaboration to be effective, you should look for ways to increase face-to-face communication.
5. Enhances feedback
As a boss, you want to know what is working for your team and what isn't. That’s easy when you're constantly interacting with your team at the office, and you'll probably get most of the feedback you need without even trying.
But when you’re remotely managing through phone calls, email, and the occasional video conference call, it takes more effort on your part. By seeking more face-to-face communication, you'll make it easier to solicit feedback from your team.
How can face-to-face communication improve remote team performance?
In some ways, COVID-19 happened at the perfect time. Thanks to many video conferencing software services, it's easier than ever for businesses to collaborate, even when everyone is at home or spread around the country.
By scheduling face-to-face communication on a regular basis via video conferencing, your team can keep those personal connections strong. It's not quite a replacement for in-person communication, but it may be enough for your organization.
However, before you try to force face-to-face communication back into your team’s schedule, consider that it may not actually be in your interest. More face-to-face communication means more potential for distractions.
You may be tempted to schedule meetings that aren’t necessary or take too long, or you may encourage unnecessary and unproductive conversations between employees that are more about socializing than getting the job done.
If you consider socializing an essential part of the employee culture, that’s fine, but realize that some employees may prefer less face-to-face communication so they can focus on their work.
If your team doesn’t need a lot of collaboration, use this opportunity to experiment with limited face-to-face communication and see how it affects the end product.
3 top video conference software options
If you’re looking for video conferencing software to keep your team connected, these three are some of the top-rated ones you’ll find.
1. Zoom Meetings
Zoom is one of the most well-known screen sharing software platforms, and with its easy-to-use interface, it’s not hard to see why. This face-to-face technology is accessible no matter what size of business you run.
It's a web-based tool that supports up to 49 videos on a screen, a virtual hand-raising feature so you can get noticed even in the largest meetings (without interrupting), and the ability to create polls with anonymized responses.
Having been in operation since 2003, Skype is one of the old dogs of the video conferencing world, and it's still one of the top options for video conferencing.
Skype for Business is being retired in 2021 and will be replaced with Microsoft Teams, but the free version of Skype is a good option for teams that just want a simple software option with useful features.
3. Google Meet
Google Meet is an effective meeting tool because it’s so easy to schedule one — simply add a meeting to your Google Calendar and it automatically populates the event with a link to a video conference that you don’t have to set up. (It will even provide you with a call-in number and pin if you just want to have a phone call.)
Google Meet is one of the simplest options, and it can host up to 250 participants at a time.
Run a quick experiment on face-to-face communication
Should you ramp up face-to-face discussion among your team or minimize it? Try an experiment in your organization during the next couple of months.
Ask one half of your team to increase the number of video conference meetings they have and ask the other half to limit meetings to only the most essential and focus on communicating via email.
Compare the accomplishments of Group A against Group B and then have a conversation with your staff to see what they think. You might be surprised at the results.