Recently there’s been a lot of buzz about how technology has limited how we share, discuss and engage with others. In short, we don’t have enough real conversations. And when we do it, we’re not fully engaged. Whether you agree or not, the enterprise still values in-person communication. A new survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Cisco shows that in-person collaboration has many benefits that may promote innovation and customer relationships.
Connection vs. Collaboration
In Sherry Turkle’s New York Times article, "The Flight from Conversation," she writes
We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection."
She asserts that technology has conditioned us to focus less on the more important aspects of human communications (facial cues, body language) and as a result has robbed us of valuable connections and conversations. To some degree I agree, but the argument is old and invalidates new studies that posit the merits of multi-tasking or the opportunities that being connected, albeit digitally, can afford those of us who are home-bound or socially awkward.
However, none of this is to say that life should be void of face-to-face encounters or that there aren’t benefits of staring deep into your supervisor’s eyes to really understand that he didn’t review the report you left on his desk like he said he would. According to the Cisco report, and subsequent infographic summary, business leaders are convinced that in-person collaboration helps resolve problems more efficiently, generates long-term relationships and can create opportunities.
Is More Face Time Needed?
And while I can definitely attribute some successful product innovations to face-to-face meetings and collaborative workspaces, I can say that it isn't always necessary. For the past five years I have worked with CMSWire and not once have I met any of my editors or other staff writers in person. Despite that, (or maybe in spite of) our communications or connections rarely falter. We rely on virtual methods to brainstorm, collaborate and check in, much the same way other global operations do.
If the world is flat and the marketplace is truly global, face-to-face communications is not always practical. Furthermore, community management, which is essential to building and maintaining customer relationships is often just as effective when done online as it is in-person.
If you are in a position to increase face-to-face meetings with customers and employees, it may be beneficial to do so. Yet, as more companies embrace telework practices either in an effort to be more green, more flexible or more omnipresent online, it will be important for business to carefully weigh the benefits of in-person meetings against the flexibility of the virtual world.
What do you think? Do you recognize the benefits of in-person meetings? How has it affected the way you work globally in a digital world? Tell us in the comments.