One of the hot topics since lockdown is the debate over the merits of face to face as opposed to online meetings. Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to meet with people online, with so many options on offer, such as Zoom, Teams, Facetime and Skype to name a few. Even the most tech-wary of people have honed their online meeting skills as a result of the pandemic, it’s become second nature now to meet with friends and colleagues virtually, and the fear factor has vanished.
Despite this, some challenges remain – not least the awkward pauses, or the wait to interject or speak when the conversation is in full flow, making it difficult to make a point and missing the opportunity. This can severely impact on the merits of a creative discussion such as brainstorming session – these require open, two-way communication, and this is why there is still very much a place for face to face meetings; the key advantages here being freedom of communication, expression of body language and the ability to interject as and when the need arises.
Relationships at work
Work colleagues don’t have to be best friends – it’s inconceivable that people who share an office will naturally become good friends – in fact, a mere ‘good morning’ or quick chat in the kitchen may be all that is exchanged, how ever it cannot be denied how important communication can be between colleagues during a working day.
Colleagues who form a connection, however that may be, will naturally feel more comfortable and part of something – even a ‘hello’ and a smile here and there will help them relax and ultimately feel a whole lot more engaged whilst they are at work.
All of these verbal and non-verbal communication types are more difficult to achieve when interacting online or over the phone. The reason for this is the fact that in person, we find it easier to perceive thoughts and feelings and gauge body language and facial expressions. A major implication of this is a strain on personal relationships and subsequently communication between parties can become more difficult.
Another impact of the lockdown has been the impact on company culture, and the challenge of retaining this when staff are now meeting and working with each other virtually as opposed to in person. This of course will raise a number of questions, not least the ability to interact and have a spontaneous discussion, when awaiting your turn to speak during a Skype or Zoom call. It doesn’t mirror a similar conversation that would take place in person around a table, or indeed over coffee.
Of course, there are staff who worked remotely pre-lockdown, with the odd appearance in the office as and when required. This won’t and shouldn’t necessarily change, however the importance of face-to-face interaction remains extremely valuable for any team. There is definitely something unique that occurs when teams collaborate in person on a project.
Companies that operate remotely will still encourage face to face meetings, and there are good reasons for this. All the virtual meetings in the world cannot compensate for meeting staff or colleagues personally and help everyone feel part of something, and to engage with each other on a number of levels. Therefore, as useful as virtual collaboration has been, it isn’t realistic nor feasible to sustain such a virtual company culture forever.