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Enhancing Face-to-Face Communication in a Post-COVID Office Environment

02 February 2024

Team leaders understand how important communication skills are for effective leadership and management.

Face-to-face communication is simply when two or more individuals can see each other during a conversation. This could either be an in-person/physical interaction, or it could be a virtual one (which has become the norm in the post-COVID world). Face-to-face conversations promote participation and engagement during meetings and help foster a culture of trust and collaboration.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lot of companies to adopt, at least partially, a work-from-home model. This change has been a major challenge for leaders looking to maintain face-to-face communication with team members.

But, why is face-to-face communication so integral to effective leadership? How, if at all, is it still relevant in this digital era? And can managers leverage the power of face-to-face communication in the face of remote work environments?

What Are the Benefits of Face-to-Face Conversations?

Keeps Team Members in the Loop:

Remote working certainly has its advantages. Not only does it allow you to save on fuel, but it also grants you the freedom to work in your t-shirt and pajamas. Working from home can also lead to improved work-life balance.

However, it is not without its drawbacks, one of which is that it can cause remote employees to feel left out or lonely. This is particularly true if certain members of your team are coming to the office while others are working from home.

Face-to-face conversations help keep all team members in the loop. Some organizations even use a mix of group and one-to-one meetings in order to make remote employees feel more involved and included.

Virtual team-building events can also help develop connections and closeness between team members.

Greater Clarity:

With face-to-face communication, you can observe the other person’s nonverbal cues and use them to better understand the message they are trying to convey.

Audio calls, emails, voice messages, or other forms of communication where you cannot see the other participants of the conversation can lead to misunderstandings, distortion, and even lost information.

Face-to-face communications are also better at reducing and addressing conflicts.

Efficient and Quicker:

We have all been a part of a lengthy and annoying email conversation thread that could instead have been a five-minute face-to-face conversation.

Overdependence on emails can lead to a lot of wasted time which, in turn, can lead to a reduction in productivity. Did you know that the typical employee spends over three hours going through and responding to work-related emails?

Besides, research says that every time you are distracted by an email notification sound, it can take around 64 seconds for you to refocus on what you were doing previously. All of this adds up to a loss of concentration and, once again, lower productivity and output.

A well-connected team, on average, is around 25% more connected than its disconnected or poorly-connected counterpart. And, maximizing face-to-face conversations is one of the most effective ways to strengthen this connection.

Higher Engagement:

Face-to-face meetings help foster a sense of unity and community within the team. They also promote active participation and engagement in ways that emails or instant messages cannot.

Thankfully, a virtual face-to-face meeting can be equally effective as a physical one. In fact, virtual meetings were one of the glues that kept teams and organizations together during the height of the pandemic. They helped create a sense of normalcy during days that seemed anything but normal.

Making participants feel heard is crucial to the success of a face-to-face meeting – after all, people who feel heard are almost five times likelier to feel more empowered. Hence, utilizing face-to-face meetings, and encouraging all participants to provide their input, can go a long way in boosting engagement.

Increased Trust:

Trust is the backbone of any effective team – and face-to-face interactions help strengthen interpersonal relationships and, by extension, harness feelings of trust between the members. Face-to-face interaction is particularly crucial for managers trying to build a virtual team.

Face-to-face communication can develop trust through nonverbal cues like:

Facial expressions

Tone of voice

Eye contact

How to Improve Face-to-Face Communication in Remote Working Environments?

The lack of physical interaction can make it hard for leaders to promote face-to-face communication with their team members. The tips and suggestions discussed in this section can help you overcome this problem.

Provide Adequate Communication Tools:

One of the main hindrances to effective face-to-face communication between remote teams is the unavailability of the right communication tools.

Choose a couple of primary platforms for your meetings, and make sure those platforms are available to every team member. Some of the most popular virtual communication software programs include Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.

Also, you need to ensure that the platform(s) that you choose have the essential collaboration and other features such as video conferencing, screen sharing, audio transcripts, and the ability to disable/enable the microphone and camera whenever needed. You could even provide flexible workstation equipment, such as the Pro L-Shaped Standing Desk, which will allow employees to better set their home offices up for virtual meetings.

Conduct Regular Video Conferences:

If you want your team to understand the importance of face-to-face interactions, you must conduct meetings on a regular basis. Make sure that your team members’ weekly schedules have the same timeslot dedicated to these video conferences.

Try to mix things up by providing multiple opportunities for face-to-face communications, such as:

Monthly one-to-one interactions

Weekly team meetings

Coffee chats

Come up with ways to keep the team engaged and active during calls. Promote active participation, but also provide for the different personalities and communication styles that your team members possess. For instance, certain members might chip in more during one-to-one interactions, while others might be more active in the group sessions. This is why you need to create several touch-points and try to play to the strengths of every member.

Conduct Office Hours:

As a team leader, you should consider hosting weekly office hours. Since it is not possible for your colleagues and team members to physically visit your office or strike up a conversation in the corridor, office hours send the message that you are still available and accessible to them.

Such an initiative will make your team members feel valued and supported and will encourage them to trust you. The isolation brought about by the pandemic has people craving social cohesion, trust, and purpose in work and life.

Encourage colleagues to come forward with their complaints, grievances, or feedback, and try to help them as best as possible. You can also spend this time acknowledging employees' achievements, assessing their progress, and setting new short- and long-term goals for them.

Prioritize Team Meetings:

As is the case with any leader, you must lead by example. This means prioritizing your periodic face-to-face interactions with your team members and making them a part of your schedule. As far as possible, try not to cancel or even show up late.

Your leadership behaviors will help your team understand the importance of face-to-face interaction better than your words ever can. Give team meetings the same kind of importance that you give to client meetings, and your team members will follow suit. Ultimately, this will lead to greater collaboration, unity, and cohesion.

Improve Your Communication Skills:

Communication skills are perhaps the single most important set of skills for any team or organizational leader. If you have been in a leadership role for quite a while, you probably already have pretty good communication skills. However, there is always room for improvement.

Below are the three basic face-to-face skills that you can work on:

Listening Skills:

For a leader, effective listening is at least as important as effective speaking. To become a better listener, you can focus on:

Being patient

Providing adequate feedback

Listening to understand

Nonverbal Cues:

Nonverbal cues make up about half of any face-to-face conversation. It is important for leaders to correctly interpret nonverbal cues, as well as display the right cues themselves. The most fundamental nonverbal cues include:

Eye contact

Body movement

Facial expressions

Receiving and Giving Feedback:

Being a leader requires you to give constructive, actionable feedback to your team. At the same time, you must also encourage your team members to provide you with feedback.

Final Word:

In this era of remote working and social restrictions, face-to-face communication has become scarcer and more important than ever before. It can help develop healthy relationships based on trust and understanding, and improve interaction between teams and their managers, as well as within the teams themselves.

Thankfully, modern technology and tools have made it possible for teams to conduct face-to-face conversations even while being miles away from each other.

We hope that this blog helped you understand the benefits and importance of face-to-face communication, as well as the measures you can take to nurture this form of communication while following the remote or hybrid model.