Since the advent of email in the mid-70s, communication in business has been slowly but surely moving onto digital platforms. And now, in 2020, face-to-face communication in the business world is virtually non-existent. People email instead of calling, share documents via Dropbox instead of presenting them at boardroom meetings, Skype instead of visiting each other’s offices, and replace weekly networking lunches with digital group chats. It’s not uncommon for people in long term and mutually beneficial business relationships to never have met.
Digital integration in the workplace has been great for efficiency and productivity. In fact, in their study The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies, the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that online collaboration tools and digital workplaces are responsible for a 20-30% increase in productivity.
Communication technology is saving businesses – particularly cash-strapped small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups – valuable time, money and resources. But meeting face-to-face still holds a few vital advantages over interacting via digital platforms.
As part of their study The Case for Face-to-Face, Forbes asked executives from around the world which communication methods are best for business and why. Of the 760 respondents, 84% stated that they still prefer in-person meetings as their primary form of communication, despite admitting that it’s time-consuming.
Their reasoning? The executives said that meeting face-to-face builds stronger and more meaningful business relationships. They noted the positive effects of human interaction, including an increased ability to persuade, lead and build trust with new people. They agreed that engaging on a personal level provides the opportunity to make eye contact and physical contact via a handshake, which helps to create a feeling of transparency.
This is supported by what behavioral psychologists have been saying about body language for years. During their study The Tentative Discussion of Icons’ Substituting for Body Language in CMC, the School of Foreign Languages found that non-verbal communication remains stronger than verbal communication across multiple settings. They indicate that as little as 7% of human communication is based solely on words, with the other factors at play being body language and nonverbal cues such as gestures, movements and mannerisms – many of which can be subconscious.
When doing business, body language can help professionals determine how a client, customer or potential business partner is feeling within a few seconds, while it may take that same person days or weeks to gauge a similar understanding when sending emails or messages back and forth. Further, messages may be misconstrued when communicated nonverbally. An individual who lacks the ability to express themselves effectively with the written word may come across as disinterested, resulting in a missed opportunity.
These findings suggest that businesses of any size should remember the strength of in-person communication as a key factor for growth and success in the digital age. This may be the small hack that SMEs and startups need to stand out from the competition, make lasting impressions, secure funding, generate more business, and retain customers.
Events such as expos and networking functions provide excellent opportunities to create real-life, long-lasting connections that small businesses need in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive business environment.