The importance of face-to-face communication in a digital world

by The Insights

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With the help of technology, business leaders today accomplish what once took ten months in 10 days. Innovation is happening faster than ever. The pandemic has triggered a rapid shift to digital tools, which has accelerated processes, empowered more people to make better decisions, and helped businesses stay agile amid heightened uncertainty. To keep pace, companies have been rushing to adopt new technologies.

In the rush to stay competitive, it can be easy to assume that new technology will make everything better. But communication is more complex. Modes of communication have expanded and our communication needs have changed. Social media and digital platforms have largely challenged face-to-face interactions as the dominant source of social connectedness. Communicating effectively now depends on more variables, and how we manage it can have very different results. Effective communication increases productivity, but poor communication can be disastrous.

As we move forward in a remote and hybrid world, there are ways in which technology can facilitate healthy communication. However, some situations will require the effectiveness of a face-to-face meeting. The key is to use all the tools available and find the right balance to meet each need.

Related: Face-to-face meetings are important for many reasons

Face-to-face communication is more valuable than ever

Before COVID-19, most of us took meeting in person for granted. Since lockdowns and safety regulations have forced offices and schools to close, in-person meetings have become rare. People were working from home, learning they loved it, and proving they could be more productive. Now, most employees want to retain some degree of flexibility, and face-to-face interactions are unlikely to regain their pre-pandemic popularity.

But humans, as social beings, thrive in the right group environments. Connecting with loved ones and peers has a positive impact on our mental well-being, and face-to-face communication best meets these social connection needs. In-person communication is usually the most effective method for strengthening or repairing bonds and developing relationships. A positive corporate culture has become essential for attracting and retaining talent, but building it is more complicated by digital means.

Leaders and employees can easily fall into the trap of only ever responding to emails and chats, neglecting contact time with specific team members. In a recent survey, one of the top reasons employees left remote or hybrid jobs was their degree of disconnect with the company. Most leaders surveyed agreed that their remote team members were at a disadvantage in terms of culture and connections.

While each individual is responsible for using the most effective method of communication in a given situation, leaders can be more intentional to enable team communication that keeps more people engaged.

Related: 5 Things You Need to Bridge the Gap Between In-Person and Remote Meetings

The best method improves communication

Effectiveness determines the type of digital tools to use for communication and the situations that warrant face-to-face or in-person discussions. Even face to face, we need to think about the best way to communicate to achieve our goals and choose the method that would be most productive. For some, long periods of silence during a difficult meeting can make them uncomfortable and cause them to fill the space with light humor. Someone else might enjoy the silence for a moment to collect their thoughts.

Team members will have different communication preferences, so to better connect with our target audience, leaders can be proactive in getting to know them. Be Direct: Express how you want to receive communications and behave the same way when communicating with others. Invite them to be upfront about what type of communication works best with them. Next, be intentional. Pause and think about the most effective form of communication for the given person to improve the likelihood of controlling their reaction. Consider the message you want to send first and let the method follow.

To deliver messages that matter, we must be ready to deliver them. The extra lift of having a meaningful conversation in person can be a struggle. We might need to do some extra work or ask for additional feedback before we meet in person. When I have a difficult message, I write it in bullet points and, instead of rushing to send it in a chat, I save it and revise it the next day. If I still feel the same about the message, I plan my approach to deliver it in the way most likely to resonate.

Often we run out of face-to-face time because we have little time to spare, and a chat is a much faster way to communicate, even on the go, but some situations need to be more personal. An instant message is generally not the best solution for serious conversations, constructive coaching or an apology. Some situations warrant looking another person in the eye and seeing how our message is being received. The best way to communicate a message may not always be the one we are most comfortable with, but it should be the one that best facilitates the achievement of the goals we want to achieve.

Related: How Effective Employee Communication Boosts Productivity

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