When MeCam set up manufacturing operations in Taiwan, CEO Drew Martin had never been there and had never met the people in charge of the operation face-to-face. Martin would communicate with his manufacturers over email, Skype, and Google Hangouts. Martin explained that his initial feelings about this arrangement were optimistic: “When people asked how many times I’d been to Taiwan, I was proud to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t have to go over there.'”
However, issues quickly arose and after months of attempted problem solving from opposite ends of the earth, neither party made any headway. Luckily, Martin had a chance to meet with the manufacturers during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“We went to dinner, had a couple of drinks, went to a couple of meetings together,” he said. “It made all the difference […] what had set us back about three or four months we got done in about four hours.”
Virtual meetings are undeniably cost-efficient when it comes to discussing business with clients, employees, and business partners. In some scenarios, there may be no way around using this strategy.
Additionally, It’s hard to deny the utility of platforms such as Skype, GoToMeeting, and Google Talk when it comes to sharing data digitally. However, the limitations of meeting virtually need to be recognized and observed in order to promote a healthy working relationship with associates. There are biological, psychological, and emotional elements involved with meeting in person that not even the longest virtual meeting can replicate.
Physical contact generates oxytocin
When I was in high school, I had a teacher who would shake everyone’s hand as they stepped into his classroom. I appreciated it, but didn’t know why until I started reading up on this subject. The neurochemical oxytocin is integral to creating feelings like trust, respect, comfort, and safety. These feelings are necessary when it comes to a healthy working environment. One in five employees feel trust is the most important component of an employee-boss relationship and one in six chose respect.
Physical contact facilitates the release of oxytocin in individuals. A handshake between meeting participants at the beginning of a meeting is a great way to get this release of oxytocin, fostering an environment that allows for open and honest communication.
If you’re coming to an agreement over a virtual platform instead of in person, you’re missing an opportunity to make your associate feel more at ease and confident, all because you weren’t able to shake their hand. So the next time you decide to present a limp and brief handshake, know that you’re robbing yourself and the other party of a good feeling.
In person you can pick up on displays of emotional intelligence
During the hiring process, deciding to not interview candidates face-to-face could mean missing out on getting a sense of their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the measurement of an individual’s ability to recognize and interpret the emotions of others.
Employers are beginning to recognize the importance of emotional intelligence, sometimes valuing it more highly even than a candidate’s IQ. In order to get a sense of an individual’s emotional intelligence, it’s important to take stock of their nonverbal communication: facial expressions, gestures, and body language. These elements will tell you how connected an individual is with their emotions. For example, if they’re expressing enthusiasm, does their posture match this sentiment?
Individuals with low emotional intelligence don’t deal with stress and other emotions in a healthy manner and don’t communicate with team members effectively. Getting the correct impression of a candidate’s emotional intelligence is an important step in measuring how much value they will add to your team. So whenever possible, have employee interviews in person.
It’s easier to maintain attention face-to-face
Meeting face-to-face is the only way to guarantee that you have the undivided attention of your audience. During a conference call, participants could very easily be reading a book, playing Angry Birds, or painting a still life.
The possibilities aren’t as numerous when you add video, but they can still surf as much of the web as they want. According to Forbes, 58% of the executives surveyed in a report admitted to frequently “surf the web, check their emails, read unrelated materials, and handle other ancillary work during digital meetings.” If the majority of executives are getting distracted during the course of a digital meeting, how can they expect any better from their employees?
Meeting in person aids collaboration
Communicating through video chat is like eating a fast food burger—it’s never as good as it looks in the commercial. Delays and other technical difficulties make dialogue stilted and awkward. The more participants, the more difficult a video chat is to pull off. When collaborating, it’s important to create an environment that fosters healthy and clear communication. In order to communicate openly, individuals must establish at least some semblance of trust between each other. There is no better way to do this than in person. Remember: oxytocin.
When virtual teams collaborate, it’s harder for a leader to emerge, for trust to be established, and for genuine conversations to take place. Additionally, it’s easier for misunderstandings to arise and for them to escalate. If you want the most out of a collaboration, put your people in a friendly, vibrant environment where they can look each other in the face and build the most trust possible.
In-person communication promotes stronger working relationships
Happy employees are a cornerstone of company success. When supervisors and managers have open-door policies, employees will feel more inherent value. Instead of having to communicate through a subsidiary or an email, they can express concerns directly. Sitting face-to-face with a superior who has a genuine interest in an employee’s life will ensure that they don’t feel like merely a cog in the machine.
According to the Ohio University School of Business, “the more friends an employee has at work, the more likely they are to love their company.” So while a relationship with supervisors is important, encouraging employees to have friends at work is just as crucial to employee satisfaction.
Work friends can commiserate, support, and share in successes. Psychologist and author Ron Friedman asserts that the notion that work friends equate to “gossip, favoritism, and distraction” is misguided. In reality, having connections at work will make an individual more focused because isolation is “painful and psychologically taxing.”
This doesn’t necessarily have to mean facilitating friendships for employees. It just means creating a work environment where employees don’t feel guilty about visiting and bonding with their peers. Allow them to have their daily dose of oxytocin. When it comes to meeting face-to-face, knowing you have friends in the meeting who will be supportive, will make employees more eager to speak up and contribute.
Travel budgets are often first to the chopping block in times of economic downturn. Remote face-to-face meetings are replaced with digital meetings. But is this really going to save money in the long run? Many studies say no.
Virtual platforms are great for disseminating data, but companies aren’t made up of data, they’re made up of people. Making sure to encourage face-to-face meetings will help satisfy the biological, psychological, and emotional needs that these people innately have, leaving them free to be productive employees.
Have you found face-to-face interaction to be as beneficial in your workplace as these studies suggest? Share your experience in the comments.