Two colleagues discussing a marketing campaign strategy in the office
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The rise of voice assistants, improved intranets and remote collaboration tools have put face-to-face workplace interactions at risk, and it may be affecting employee productivity and satisfaction. In fact, 67% of managers believe their organization would be more productive if employees communicated face-to-face more frequently.

So, how are communication apps changing the workplace, and how can companies take advantage of new technologies while still promoting face-to-face interactions?

How Technology Is Improving the Digital Workplace

There’s no doubt technology has transformed the way employees get work done. It’s now easier than ever for globally distributed teams to communicate and collaborate on projects without ever needing to meet in-person.

James Watkins, digital marketing manager at phs Group believes apps like Slack and Skype are extremely useful for project management. “Productivity has gone up, and miscommunication has gone down,” he said, “as verbal instructions can be misconstrued and/or forgotten.” Digital communication tools can bring clarity to teams because tasks can be viewed and updated whenever necessary. Watkins finds that this keeps teams on the same page and aware of upcoming deadlines.

While digital communication can bring clarity and productivity to organizations, relying solely on these apps can severely impact employee engagement and satisfaction in the long-term.

Related Article: Remote Control: Keys to Developing a Successful Remote Work Policy

Face-to-Face Meetings and Productivity: Friend or Foe?

Technology isn't the answer to every question, and this seems true in the context of eliminating face-to-face meetings altogether, as Ramya Menon, editor at Bayut said: “We have found that people can hide behind communication apps,” And this issue is not just remote workers, but also employees working in the same office. “Creativity suffers as there is less focus on people bouncing ideas off each other via digital,” said Menon. While digital communication may be great for project management or more administrative use-cases, it’s not as practical for brainstorming or strategic team meetings.

Hutton Henry, CEO of Beyond M&A agreed, “online meetings tend to have lower energy than their face to face equivalent and not being in the same space does not allow us to fully express non-verbal communication.” Employees are less engaged and the overall value of digital meetings significantly diminishes. With digital communication, there’s too much potential for distractions that puts added pressure on managers or meeting leaders to facilitate employee engagement.

“If you want to increase the impact of your meetings,” suggested Henry, “look to increase non-verbal communication and increase attention between staff during meetings — both are easier to achieve when meeting face-to-face.” Using less technology during team meetings can actually increase their effectiveness because it eliminates distractions.

Even for remote workers, in-person interactions can be beneficial for productivity. Henry found that “people do not trust technology where they do trust people during in-person meetings, and are more prone to being open.” For remote workers, therefore, having in-person meetups at least a few times a year could let them develop better relationships with coworkers. Closer relationships with coworkers and more open communication with teams could lead to better collaboration and productivity — even through digital apps.

Face-to-Face Interactions Improve Employee Satisfaction

While digital communication may enhance productivity in the short-term, employee satisfaction is critical in the long run. “Working takes up at least a third of your life,” stated Watkins. “Whether it’s informal chats in the office, or social drinks on a Friday,” Watkins continued, “both are important for staff morale and for them to feel like part of a team.” Social interactions are critical for building a positive company culture.

Social interactions are essential for remote workers as well. “Despite the technological advancements, the human factor in business shouldn’t be replaced completely,” explained Menon. She believes face-to-face interactions for remote employees are critical for making them feel part of the team and for avoiding loneliness. Occasional in-person meetings can make remote workers feel more connected with the organization and improve their productivity when they’re working from home.

“In the worst cases,” Henry said, “people can be more aggressive when not in the same space.” If there are communication silos, team members may be less open to the point of view of other coworkers. This could lead to poor working relationships and bad company culture. The human aspect of face-to-face interactions beyond digital communication is vital for building collaborative teams in the long run.

It’s clear that the use of digital communications apps is only going to grow as remote work becomes more commonplace. Companies, therefore, should look towards a healthy balance of digital communication and face-to-face interactions for greater productivity and employee satisfaction.