Why face-to-face communication matters (even with remote work)

January 11, 2022 - 18 min read

three-women--on-video-call-face-to-face-communication

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What is face-to-face communication?

6 benefits of face-to-face communication

5 disadvantages of face-to-face communication

How to improve face-to-face communication when working remotely

3 fundamental face-to-face communication skills for leaders

As an effective leader, you know that strong communication skills are essential for managing your team. 

Face-to-face communication is when two or more people can see each other while communicating. It encourages engagement and participation in meetings and builds a company culture of trust.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have shifted to a remote working model at least part of the time. This paradigm shift poses a challenge to leaders who want to maintain face-to-face communication with their teams.

But why is face-to-face communication important for effective leadership? And is it still relevant in the digital era? If so, how can managers of remote teams continue to leverage its power? Read on to find out.

What is face-to-face communication? 

Face-to-face communication is when two or more people interact and communicate while visible to one another. This might be a physical, in-person conversation, or it could be in a virtual setting.

Face-to-face communication is often more effective than written or audio-only conversations. This is because seeing one another allows us to pick up on nonverbal cues and body language. And because a lot of communication is nonverbal, being able to see each other helps us understand each other better.

Good leaders know that face-to-face communication helps them connect with their team members. 

For example, when you have to have a difficult conversation with an employee, you know it’s best to do it face-to-face.

In the digital age, video conferencing technology allows us to get face time with our colleagues even when we’re not physically in the same room as them. 

Virtual meetings have become the norm since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the way we work. Even as companies return to their offices, many continue to use a hybrid of in-person and remote working. 91% of employees say they want to keep working at least some of the time remotely, so it looks like remote work is here to stay.

Companies now rely heavily on online communication. This makes face-to-face communication more challenging than it used to be. 

But it was thanks to video conference software that the world kept going as we all sheltered in place. Video call became the main form of face-to-face communication for remote workers.

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6 benefits of face-to-face communication

Let’s take a look at the importance of face-to-face communication and how it can help your remote team work together more effectively.

1. It keeps employees in the loop

Remote working has its advantages. For example, you save time and money on commuting, and you get to wear your pajamas during the working day. It also may provide better work life balance

But it also has its drawbacks. One of them is that remote team members can feel lonely or left out. This is especially true when part of your team works in the office, and the other part works remotely.

Keep everyone in the loop by maintaining regular face-to-face communication. Try to include different types of meetings, including a mix of one-to-one and team meetings, so that remote colleagues feel included. 

You might even want to consider virtual coffee breaks or other team-building activities. This will help strengthen connections among team members. 

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2. It reduces misunderstandings

Being able to see each other’s nonverbal communication cues helps us understand what the other person is saying more easily.

Other communication channels, such as email or audio calls, are less reliable. They’re more likely to lead to miscommunication and lost information. 63% of people have missed important information stuck in an absent colleague’s inbox. 

Face-to-face communication can also help with conflict resolution by reducing misunderstandings.

3. It’s quicker and more efficient

We’ve all experienced a long, annoying email chain that could have been resolved in five minutes with a face-to-face conversation.

Emails are a notorious time waster and not beneficial for productivity. The average employee spends more than 3 hours per day communicating by email for work-related reasons.

Plus, after every distracting ping of an incoming email, it takes 64 seconds to refocus your attention. All of this contributes to a loss of focus and lower productivity.

Well-connected teams are 20–25% more productive than disconnected ones. One of the best ways to foster that connection is through face-to-face communication.

4. It boosts engagement

Face-to-face team meetings are a great way to create a sense of community. They also encourage active engagement and participation in a way that emails and instant messaging can’t.

Fortunately, virtual meetings can be just as effective as in-person ones. In fact, for many teams, virtual meetings were the glue that held them together during the height of the pandemic. They helped people to focus during days that seemed very uncertain.

The success of face-to-face meetings depends on whether the participants feel heard. It turns out that people are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered when they feel heard. So encouraging your employees to speak up in meetings can help to boost engagement.

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5. It builds trust

Trust is a crucial component of any successful team. Face-to-face interaction strengthens interpersonal connections among team members. This helps to establish and build trust. Especially if you're investing in virtual team building, it's important to leverage face-to-face interaction to build trust. 

This is just as true for your clients as it is for your team. A team with a high level of trust works better together and is more productive. Similarly, building relationships with your clients also requires trust.

Face-to-face communication can help build trust through nonverbal cues such as:

6. It can make you more persuasive

If you wanted to ask a favor of a colleague, would it be better to do it in person or by phone? Instinctively, you probably think that a face-to-face meeting would be more effective.

And you’re right. It’s much harder to say “no” to someone’s face than it is to hit send on an email. 

So, when you want to use your powers of persuasion to influence your colleagues, it’s best to do it face-to-face.

Not only can you engage them through nonverbal cues, but you can also watch them and assess their reactions. This allows you to see whether your argument is working or if you need to change tactics.

5 disadvantages of face-to-face communication 

So, does face-to-face communication have any disadvantages? Well, it depends on the context and what you’re trying to achieve. 

Let’s explore a few scenarios in which face-to-face communication may not be the best or most efficient option.

1. You’re part of a global remote team

When large numbers of people are involved, instant messaging channels such as Slack or even email can be a more efficient way to communicate. 

This is especially true for teams who work across time zones and set their own schedules, for example, a team of freelancers.

In these cases, written communication allows team members to participate in the discussion when it’s convenient for them. But even in remote teams, there are still opportunities for virtual team building

2. You want to schedule an event

If you’re organizing a meeting or event, email is often the most efficient way to communicate. This is because it gives the organizer a written record of attendance. 

Email invitations sync to participants’ calendars. They also contain the information attendees need and can refer to, making them a convenient way to organize events.

3. You only need to check something

Perhaps you’ve forgotten a client’s name or misplaced your meeting notes. When all you need is a quick answer, sometimes the best option is to pick up the phone and call. You also have it written in front of you so you can refer to it later on.

Since it doesn’t require scheduling a meeting, it saves you time. It also means you don’t have to spend time composing an email and waiting for a reply when a 30-second conversation is all it takes.

team-during-virtual-meeting-face-to-face-communication

4. You want to share information with your whole team

If you have to make an important announcement, a company-wide memo may be a better option than a face-to-face meeting.

Some companies create videos or other media to share on their social media platforms. You can also send newsletters or create a blog or LinkedIn Pulse publication.

5. Your team has Zoom fatigue

If virtual meetings have replaced in-person ones within your workplace, it’s important to recognize that employees may have multiple meetings scheduled throughout their day. 

Zoom fatigue is real, so leaders must create a balance between face-to-face communication and other options to help employees stay mentally fit

How to improve face-to-face communication when working remotely 

Perhaps you’re wondering how you can improve your remote team’s face-to-face communication. If so, here are five tips you can start implementing right away.

1. Provide communication tools

Not having adequate communication tools can be an obstacle to remote face-to-face communication.

Start by making sure all your team members have access to the same software — whether it’s Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, or another provider.

When choosing a digital communication tool for your team, make sure it has both video chat and other collaboration features such as screen sharing.

2. Schedule regular video calls

If you want your team to take face-to-face communication seriously, make sure they block out time in their schedules for it.

Try to include a variety of opportunities for face-to-face communication, such as:

  • Weekly team meetings
  • Monthly one-on-ones
  • Periodic coffee chats

Find ways to keep your team active and engaged during calls. Encourage active participation, but be aware that not everyone has the same communication style.

For example, some people may communicate better in one-on-one meetings than in group meetings. For this reason, it’s important to create a variety of touchpoints and ways to communicate face-to-face.

3. Host office hours

If you’re a leader, block out some time each week for office hours. Let colleagues know that, since they can’t physically knock on your office door or catch you in the corridor, you’re making this time available for them.

This will make your team members feel supported and help to build their trust in you. Employees are craving trust, social cohesion, and finding purpose in their work. They also want to feel their achievements are recognized

Use this time to support colleagues with problem-solving or finding ways to work toward their career aspirations.

woman-waves-on-video-call-in-her-kitchen-face-to-face-communication

4. Prioritize team calls

If you’re a team leader, it’s essential to lead by example. Prioritize your face-to-face meetings with your team by scheduling them in your calendar. Avoid canceling or showing up late. 

Show them through your leadership behaviors that face-to-face communication is important. If you take team meetings as seriously as you take client meetings, your team members will do the same. This will encourage greater team cohesion and better collaboration.

5. Work on your communication skills

Every organization — and every team leader — lives and dies by its communication abilities. If you’re in a leadership role, there’s a good chance you already have decent communication skills, but there’s always room for improvement.

In the next section, we’ll break down some specific communication skills that you can work on developing.

3 fundamental face-to-face communication skills for leaders

Let’s take a look at three skills you can develop as a leader for better face-to-face communication.

Listening skills

Did you know that your ability to listen is just as important as your speaking skills — especially in the digital era? Or that there are different types of listening that you need to use depending on the circumstances?

When you think of communication, you may think of speaking skills. But developing your listening skills is just as important. Listening effectively can include: 

  • Checking for understanding
  • Being patient
  • Letting others talk

Nonverbal cues

In face-to-face communication, it’s important to pay attention to nonverbal cues. These include:

You should notice the nonverbal cues of others while also paying attention to the cues that you may be giving off too.

Giving and receiving feedback

As a leader, an important part of communication is giving your team effective feedback that they can use to be successful. At the same time, you should know how to ask for and receive feedback from your team. 

Model all three of these communication behaviors and encourage your team members to do the same. And remember that leading by example is far more effective than simply giving orders. If you communicate effectively, your team will do the same.

Face-to-face communication is more important than ever

Face-to-face communication is more important than ever before in the post-pandemic world. 

It can help build trust and foster relationships among team members and with their managers. It can also lead to better collaboration, greater productivity, and more innovation and creativity

Fortunately, video conferencing technology makes face-to-face communication possible even for remote teams. 

If you would like support in improving your team’s face-to-face communication, request a custom demo with BetterUp. We specialize in helping professionals improve key leadership skills such as communication.

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Published January 11, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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