Why face-to-face communication remains relevant

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One of the biggest challenges in the workplace is that of communication. Everything we say (and do not say) has an immense impact on the effectiveness and functionality of the workplace and those who work in it. While modern technology inundates us with methods of communication, intended to improve the quality of communication, it leaves us at a loss for some of the simpler, more effective methods of communication, which are often overlooked: that of face-to-face communication.

Face-to-face communication was the very first form of communication ever created, long ago before we had conceptualised the idea of time, people were interacting face-to-face and communicating largely without words, but visual communication and body language. As humans, we are wired for this kind of communication before any other form of it. Especially since, in face-to-face communication, we rely so heavily on body language, which helps us communicate a message in a much simpler and more effective way with more opportunity to express meaning than in any other form of communication.

Therefore, it goes without saying that incorporating face-to-face communication will remain necessary for as long as we are human, regardless of the range of digital communication methods that are available to us.

Face-to-face communication is especially necessary in the workplace where colleagues, both senior and junior, come together to create a delicate ecosystem in which productivity is made king. The idea that people are able to share and learn from each other in a way that is both practical and expressive is no novel thought. In fact, many companies who work exclusively online have trouble incorporating new staff into their company mainly because they lack the day-to-day, hour-by-hour, face-to-face input that the traditional workplace allows.

This is not to say that the future isn’t digital. Contrarily, trends seem to show that, especially after the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work will thrive and become pertinent in most industries. Having the infrastructure to work remotely will probably help you avoid being left behind by your competitors who have moved into the world of digitisation and process automation. Regardless, face-to-face communication cannot be neglected.

Below follow a few simple tips to improve face-to-face communication in a modernising workplace:

1. Meeting with visual presence remains paramount

You’ve probably sat in a meeting at some point in your life where you looked back at the end and thought, “That could have been an e-mail.” And while it is true that many meetings are not always relevant or efficient, it says more about the people who called for the meeting and their planning than it really does for the importance of meetings.

Being able to share a room with someone (and this does not exclude virtual rooms) and engage in communication that easily gets a point across, enables quick back-and-forth verbal processing, and gives room to be visually expressive, is vital in ensuring that things in the company run smoothly. Where possible, opt to have a meeting in a physical space, rather than a virtual space unless the reason for meeting in a digital space saves time and has been thought through.

2. Minimise non-synchronous communication

E-mails are great, but they fail in many respects where face-to-face communication does not. E-mails are non-synchronous forms of communication, which means that communication does not happen in real-time, but is often subject to delay, confusion, or frustration. People are wired to receive prompt responses during communication and if they have to wait hours to get a response to a simple request, it can leave them with ill-feeling towards the person(s) on the other side of the communication channel.

To circumvent this problem, opt for synchronous communication wherever possible and relevant, and make use of visual face-to-face communication as well. It’s a lot faster and is less subject to confusion or miscommunication.

3. Take care to put face-to-face communication in writing

An important consideration for face-to-face communication is that because it happens in real-time, often without any recorded information, it will require recording after the fact. This kind of summarising communication does not have to be synchronous and acts merely for the benefit of those present. This is, after all, why meeting minutes are so important – it gives those present a way of looking back on what was said and act upon the given instruction/information.

So, while you’re slamming away at your keyboard, don’t forget that you work with real people, people who are either very close (or who are reachable at the touch of a button). And how do real people engage in real simple communication? By looking at each other, and speaking.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

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