Social media, texting and email are replacing face-to-face conversations, and people are more isolated than ever. This affects our health, our personal lives and our work. We know it, but we've been slow to do anything about it. It’s time we got back to using our faces to do business.
According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, 3.7 million employees now work from home at least half the time in the United States. The selection of technologies capable of keeping everyone connected has grown at a brisk pace, but the convenience of typing a message comes at a cost. Dependence on screen-to-screen communication has removed a level of intimacy that comes when we connect face to face.
Bringing workers back to the office, holding video meetings and planning off-site employee meetups are a few of the steps companies are taking to promote face-to-face employee interaction, which fosters a level of intimacy and engagement that’s absent in instant messages, emails and texts.
The Power of the Human Face
Charles Darwin is known for his groundbreaking research on evolution. But he also conducted one of the earliest studies of the human face. He explored how people recognize and interpret emotions in others through their expressions. Two centuries later, his research is more relevant than ever.
From technology to workplace design to creative management, there are proven strategies that bring people together and drive business. Here are five essential reasons to invest in the face.
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1. See the Full Picture
Without face-to-face interaction, we don’t get the full picture of what others are trying to say to us.
Michael Landers, a global business consultant and the author of “Culture Crossing: Discover the Key to Making Successful Connections in the New Global Era,” has said, “When you’re not seeing someone, the chances of miscommunication between individuals and groups increase greatly.”
When we communicate just by phone, text or email, Landers adds, “there’s so much more that’s open for interpretation.”
Reading someone’s facial cues and expressions is just as important as the verbal exchange.
Eye contact alone strengthens communication by letting others know that we’re present and listening. It builds a connection between individuals and conveys credibility. And the multisensory experience of looking at one another when we converse increases information retention, according to a 2010 report by the Maritz Institute.
2. Engage the Brain
When we interact face to face, mirror neurons start firing in our brain. We subconsciously build a rapport by mimicking body movements, gestures and expressions. A smile can generate a smile. According to UCLA neuroscientist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, mirror neurons enable us to understand other people’s emotions and intentions by internally re-creating what they are experiencing. Relating to a client or a colleague on that subconscious level goes a long way toward building relationships. Clicking on a happy emoticon doesn’t trigger an emotional attachment in the same way.
3. Team-Building Outside the Box
To build a loyal team dedicated to the company’s mission, business leaders can benefit by creating environments in which employees can connect. Collaboration is often spontaneous. Employee interaction doesn’t have to be centered around work — or even take place exclusively in the office. For example, Patagonia schedules workday surf sessions for employees on a beach near its Ventura, Calif., headquarters. When employees connect outside of the office, it builds synergy and relationships for successful teamwork back inside.
4. Inspire the Team in Person
Howard Schultz stepped down as CEO of Starbucks in 2000. But he reclaimed that role in 2008 after the coffee company struggled and its stock price dropped 42 percent. To turn the company around, Schultz gathered his management team in person. He spent $30 million to bring 10,000 store managers together in New Orleans. He wanted to lay out his strategy for a corporate turnaround in person and inspire his employees (whom he refers to as “partners”). Before they got down to work, they spent 54,000 volunteer hours on projects like painting, landscaping and building playgrounds around the city. His face-to-face strategy worked. Starbucks made a comeback with even greater success.
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5. The Happiness Factor
Social media is an oxymoron. The more technology is our primary method of interaction, the more antisocial we become. Our happiness decreases and depression increases as we feel more isolated. One study found that people who spent at least two hours a day on social media doubled their likelihood of “perceived social isolation.”
The benefits of being together and meeting face to face are more than just mental. In a Stanford School of Medicine study, doctors found that our bodies release a hormone called oxytocin when we socialize in person. The oxytocin triggers serotonin to move throughout our bodies, which results in a feeling of overall happiness. Recognizing this effect, businesses should cultivate more face-to-face engagement if they want healthier, happier workers.
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Nothing Replaces Human Interaction
Companies are realizing what science has proved all along — that humans are social creatures and communication is most successful when the face is the focal point. Businesses are embracing this strategy in creative ways. Google, for example, has fluid office designs to encourage spontaneous collaboration with endless areas for people to gather. And Apple’s new Silicon Valley campus, Apple Park, was designed with employee interaction in mind.
As Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Wall Street Journal, “For all of the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing yet replaces human interaction.”
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