When to have In-Person Conversations
Authenticity is trending. Employees, particularly millennials, care about building relationships and trust with the people they work with. There are times when an Email may be fine, such as when you need to provide an update on a simple item, such as a business workflow change. However, there are other times when an “in-person” conversation is a better approach, and a “face-to-face” connection is necessary to do this, even if you must rely on video conferencing solutions for the interaction.
Two of the biggest benefits of in-person conversations are that you can pick up on non-verbal cues and communicate in a more efficient and productive way.
It is incredibly difficult to understand someone’s emotional state from an Email, even if you know that person well. Body language can tell you a tremendous amount about a person and what they are feeling or thinking in the moment.
Communicating Efficiently and Productively
You can also get more accomplished during an in-person meeting than during other types of communication. The conversation can start and end within a shorter time frame, without needing to wait to hear back from someone vie Email, or the issues that sometimes occur during conference calls when people “talk over” each other or don’t always “listen well”.
Times When an In-Person Conversation Is Best
Knowing when to have an in-person conversation is key to effectively managing a team or communicating with co-workers. These scenarios call for face-to-face communication instead of a message sent over Email or an Instant Messenger (“IM”) app or text message.
There’s a New Team Member
When you have on-boarded someone new to the team, it is helpful to personalize your first several conversations with them as much as possible. Instead of Emailing them, walk to their desk, talk to them, and try to “get to know them” a bit. Neither of you know each other’s personalities yet, so relying solely on Email or other types of virtual messaging can give the wrong impression and won’t build understanding and trust. The more you get to know someone, the easier it will then be to communicate with fewer personal conversations and rely more on electronic communications.
There’s a Sensitive Situation at Work
When a sensitive situation arises in the workplace, such as employees who are not getting along, having an in-person conversation can greatly help to eliminate misunderstandings. For example, if one employee believes that the tone of someone’s Emails are always cold or degrading, if they just reply with an equally cold Email, resentment only grows and the situation may further escalate. As emotions rise, tension becomes palpable, and everything from verbal abuse to physical violence can occur. An in-person conversation will allow for people to read each other’s body language and hear the “tone” in their voices. In addition, people tend to be more open to understanding when speaking with someone “in person”.
An Employee Has to Be Reprimanded or Corrected
When you must provide difficult or negative feedback to an employee with respect to their performance, it is best to handle it “in-person”. This is one situation where you want to avoid Email or other types of text-only communication, which would be very impersonal and would be more likely for your words to be interpreted the wrong way. With an in-person conversation, you can adjust your tone, see how the other person reacts, listen to their concerns, and answer any questions they have, all in a “real time” exchange.
An Employee Is Being Let Go
When it’s time to let an employee go, you should always do this “in-person” whenever possible. If this is physically not possible, then at a minimum, you should do it via a video call where you can see each other. It is definitely fine (and appropriate) to always follow-up the exchange with written documentation that clearly defines what was discussed, but the initial interaction should always come from another person, never an Email or a written document.
An Employee Is Receiving Praise
Informing an employee that they have done a “great job” is also something best done “in person” whenever possible. In fact, this is something that can even be done in front of other people (such as at a team meeting). Personal and Business accomplishments should be personalized and celebrated, and it is always nice to the person giving the “kudos” to see the other person’s face when you provide them with “positive feedback”.
When a Face-to-Face Discussion Isn’t Possible
Sometimes it just isn’t possible to sit two people down in the same room to have a discussion, whether that’s due to scheduling conflicts, time-zone differences, or geography constraints due to team members being spread across the globe.
However, thanks to today’s advanced telecommunication technologies, there are still many ways to hold a “face-to-face” conversation.
In the past, communication was done solely in person, especially in a work setting when everyone worked from the same office building. When the pager was introduced in the mid ‘90s, employees could stay in touch even when they couldn’t meet in person. Personal computers and handheld devices, like the Blackberry, let people stay in touch via email.
And later on, live messaging solutions grew in popularity, which were useful solutions for connecting on-the-go or while multitasking but raised problems when it came time to perform serious conversations.
Today, live video calls can be made from your computer or smartphone, putting two people face-to-face in a “virtual room” even if they can’t be together in a “physical room”.
Remote Employees and Communication
Modern businesses see the value in letting their workers telecommute, with some companies having their complete teams operate remotely while dispersed across the country or globe. With this growing trend comes the need for richer and more reliable communication systems that let people collaborate without miscommunication. Communication methods such as Email, which often result in “overlapping messages” and convoluted strings of messages, just isn’t a robust enough solution.
A common misconception about remote work is that it hinders communication. However, in many cases, the very opposite appears to be true and communication actually seems to be greater. This could perhaps be because remote work has such a pressing need for robust and solid communication. Remote workers may even find it easier to start and stay focused on complex projects and important work activities.
And even remote workers are finding ways to “connect” with other remote workers by creating social streams of communication which allows their team members to know one another and develop rapport and even friendships. And these occur not only within companies, but also within industries and professions. Examples include Slack channels for employees to chat about their lives instead of work, as well as social meetups for employees and “like-minded professionals” in the same geographical area. As an example, it is common to find local and regional groups of “web developers” that get together and share ideas and knowledge through social networks and even in-person events.
Here are a few strategies for improving communication among remote teams:
● Make sure everyone learns and uses the same communication tools
● Ensure that employees who have been with the company for a long time get up-to-speed with new communication tools and don’t get left behind as new tools are deployed.
● Always be on the lookout for new and better communication tools.
● Hold “In-person” meetings as needed and locations where everyone can attend (this can be a physical meeting or a live video meeting).
● Respect availability and time zone differences, instead of expecting employees to be available around-the-clock
● Collaborate with your HR department to create a workplace policy regarding conduct on work-related channels of communication.
Employees engage in all types of communication throughout the day: Emails, live messaging, phone calls, video chat, shared communication boards, notes on shared documents, etc. For the most part, these tools are effective when there isn’t anything sensitive or complex to discuss. But it is important to understand when it is ok to use these communication tools and when, by contrast, the conversation needs to come “offline” and be handled in a more personalized way through actual, “face-to-face” (or at least video) conversation.