Nothing beats a truly personal, face-to-face connection. Although that’s true for many types of human interaction, it’s particularly important in business, where miscommunication costs time and money.
The fewer of our five senses that we’re able to use during an interaction, the higher the risk for miscommunication. (Although taste doesn’t usually come into it, unless you’re in the catering business.)When you miss out on face-to-face discussions, you’re also missing some of the non-spoken information, and that means you can’t accurately read the other person.
It’s just how we’re wired. People send a range of sensory information that the brain can pick up only when sharing a space, as John Medina, author of Brain Rules, explained in a Forbes article.
(Learn the nine signs that your online meetings need to be offline in our previous post, Why Offline Meetings Will Always Exist.)
For example, participants in a brainstorm who are joining via audio only will miss the slight changes in eye contact that are evident in a personal meeting and will be more likely to miss the highs and lows of the voice, too. Medina calls this the “The Proust Effect.”
But despite the fact that face-to-face is the most expressive method of communication, it’s not always easy – or even possible – to get everyone in the same room. Luckily, there are plenty of online tools to help businesses combine the benefits of the in-person collaborative experience with the flexibility offered by remote working.
Three ways to work toward “almost-in-person” collaboration:
1. Scheduled meetings: In lieu of all attendees being in person at a meeting, videoconferencing technology today includes cameras that follow the speaker, zoom in and out and display high-resolution imagery for in-person attendees. Certain conferencing apps automatically switch to the webcam of offsite attendees or show multiple attendees all at once on everyone’s screen. (Read more in our post Conference Room Technology: Time for an Upgrade?)
2. Off-the-cuff discussions: The popularity of personal social tools has spilled over into the workplace. Office chat and message boards let people ask questions and share information without crowding inboxes, while still retaining easy-to-find conversation histories. And instant-messaging apps, like Lync, with click-to-meet functionality can be a huge boon to the combination on-site/off-site teams.
3. Project management: Online project management tools like Trello and Basecamp allow team members and groups from other departments or organizations to be added to specific projects. They can share updates and assign tasks within the app, taking the discussion out of email inboxes.