This week I decided to do a little experiment. I put down the phone and the keyboard and I focused on face to face communication. I walked across the office to chat to colleagues and I took some extra time out to meet with my clients – much more than usual. I drank coffee, I went out to lunch – I engaged. Meeting people is an important part of what I do as a recruiter, however (actively) paying extra attention to the idea of liasing face to face with clients, colleagues and candiates made a very real difference.
We are not the only ones to find that these so-called “soft skills” of communicating in a natural and open way (without the use of technology) are working in terms of relationships. Some of the biggest companies in the world are now stepping away from their phones and computers and engaging in real contact.
It has only been in the last decade that people have started to work in a more flexible way with days spent at home and conferences taking place via skype or video link. Many businesses see this as being more efficient and workers love the flexibility that home working can give them. But does it mean that we are actually losing the art of face to face communication and therefore missing out on the many advantages?
A study of more than 2,000 employees carried out by the National Association of Colleges ad Employers (NACE) has looked into the value of so-called “soft skills” to the UK economy. These soft skills include the ability to communicate clearly and with all people in any role. It was discovered that employees understand the importance of these skills but they lack the confidence to use them. The study which was carried out on behalf of some large businesses including McDonalds, also revealed that more than £88bn is lost to the UK economy due to a lack of these essential employment skills.
The problem seems to be that the next generation of workers are growing up on a diet of social media and have never learned how to interact without some kind of screen doing the communication on their behalf. They don't understand the importance of eye contact, reading a persons reactions and responding appropriately. These skills are incredibly important in the business place and vital for anyone that wants a long term career in the profession.
Let's be clear
Perhaps the most important reason why face to face communication within the workplace is essential is the misinterpretation of written contact. We have all experienced the text message that came out wrong or the email that was too direct and hurt someone's feelings. When we are looking at our colleagues face as we speak to them we can judge the non-verbal clues such as their facial expressions and use these to decide on our approach.
It feels nicer
Taking the time to see your clients and colleagues actually gives them a feeling of importance in your life. They will remember you and your company. Your colleagues will get to know your personality and this will improve working relationships. Essentially, that little extra time and effort will be rewarded.
It can be quicker
Many people use emails because of the clarity that can come from writing something down. That makes sense – but an email exchange with your co-worker across the office does seem like a time wasting experience. To make the most of the communications channels it makes more sense to walk over and have a chat. By all means send one email to confirm what has been agreed, but don't underestimate the time you could save by simply talking to them.
It can be more business-like
Many of us are so used to communicating via Chat, emails, forums, texts or Facebook and we have become very relaxed about using these channels. Our language can become lazy, our spelling and grammar can be somewhat lax and we may say things that are inappropriate in the workplace. Not only are these digitally recorded forever, it comes across as unprofessional. Face to face communication will be appropriate to the person.
So the key to making the most of the world we now live in is to judge the best times to use the social media options we have available, but not to rely on them. You will be remembered for the effort you make with your colleagues and clients. For those kids (I feel old just saying that) just starting on their work-life journey, they probably need to make more effort than most as it is now affecting the economy.
For me, the benefits of face to face meetings are clear and increasing these interactions has become a part of my overall business plan and that of my team.