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The Importance of Face-to-Face Communication in a Digital World


Apr 20, 2023
The Importance of Face-to-Face Communication in a Digital World


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With the help of technology, business leaders today are accomplishing what once took ten months in 10 days. Innovation is happening faster than ever. The pandemic instigated a rapid shift to digital tools, which have sped up processes, enabled more people to make better decisions and helped companies stay agile amidst greater uncertainty. To keep up, businesses have been racing to adopt new technologies.

In a rush to stay competitive, it can be easy to assume that new technology will improve everything. 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 a dominant source of social connectedness. Communicating effectively now depends on more variables, and how we manage it can have vastly different outcomes. Effective communication boosts productivity, but poor communication can be disastrous.

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

Related: Face-to-Face Meetings are Important for SO Many Reasons

Face-to-face communication is more valuable than ever

Before COVID-19, most of us took the act of meeting in person for granted. Since lockdowns and safety regulations forced offices and schools to close, in-person meetings became rare. People worked at home, learned they liked it, and proved they could be more productive. Now, most employees want to keep some degree of flexibility, and in-person interactions are unlikely to return to their pre-pandemic popularity.

But humans, as social beings, thrive in the right group environments. Connectedness to loved ones and peers positively impacts our mental well-being, and face-to-face communication best fulfills those needs for social connectedness. In-person communication is usually the most effective method of strengthening or repairing connections and developing relationships. Positive company culture has become critical to attracting and retaining talent, but building that is more complicated over digital means.

Leaders and employees can easily fall into the trap of only ever replying to emails and chats, neglecting face time with specific team members. In a recent survey, one of the top reasons employees left remote or hybrid jobs was how disconnected they felt from the company. Most executive respondents agreed that their remote team members were at a disadvantage in culture and connections.

While each individual is responsible for employing the most effective communication method in a given situation, leaders can be more intentional about enabling 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 enhances communication

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

Team members will have different communication preferences, so to best connect with our desired audience, leaders can be proactive in getting to know them. Be direct: Express how you want to receive communications and model the same behavior in communicating with others. Invite them to be direct in return about the kind of communication that works best with them. Then, be intentional. Pause and reflect on 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 count, we must be prepared to deliver them. The extra lifting of having a meaningful in-person conversation can be a struggle. We might need to do extra work or seek additional input before meeting face-to-face. When I have a difficult message, I write it out in bullet points and, instead of rushing to send it through in a chat, save it and go back to review it the next day. If I still feel the same way about the message, I plan my approach to deliver it in the way most likely to resonate.

Often, we miss out on face time because we have little time to spare, and a chat is a much quicker way of communicating, even on the go, but some situations need to be more personal. An instant message is not usually the best solution for serious conversations, constructive coaching or an apology. Some situations warrant looking another person in the eyes and seeing how our message is received. The best way to communicate a message may not always be the one we’re most comfortable with, but it should be the one that best facilitates reaching the ends we want to achieve.

Related: How Effective Employee Communication Boosts Productivity

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