Think back to the hazy days of pre-pandemic when working from home was said sarcastically and video calls were a gimmick most never experienced. Cue almost two years of “you’re on mute”, interruptions from screaming children and scoffing biscuits while your camera’s off and here we are.
Most of us are back to some ‘new normal’ of hybrid working, but will that last? Will work ever be fully virtual again? Or will things soon drift back to the way they were? We don’t have all the answers, but we’ve put together a guide for why we think face-to-face ain’t dead yet.
Disclaimer: We know what you’re thinking. Shocker! A snazzy flexible working space company is raving about the perks of office working. Well you’re wrong. We know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to work and people have to do what works for them and for their business. But we do have super cool spaces people want to spend time in and we’re pretty confident that won’t stop any time soon.
Why you can’t beat face-to-face communication
Actions speak louder and all that
Communication isn't just about the words we say — it's also about body language, facial expressions, tone and gestures. Scientists don't know exactly how much our communication is influenced by these things (thanks, science), but studies have found that people prefer listening to and find it easier to understand a person who they can see making gestures. And making gestures while speaking can also help you communicate better.
This is a problem on audio calls or video conferences where we find it harder to see facial expressions and body language. If we can see coworkers' faces at all in their tiny thumbnails, we might still find it hard to make out their expressions.
Without these cues that usually enable our communication skills, brainstorming sessions online can feel awkward and meetings be draining (well, more than normal…).
With many people suffering from increased exhaustion and anxiety caused by virtual communication – you may have heard it called Zoom fatigue – returning to face-to-face communication can also be a relief for some people.
Zoom meetings can trigger anxiety because ‘speaking in a video meeting, especially a large one, is a little like speaking on a well-lit stage: everyone can see you, but you can’t see them, or at least not clearly enough to read the non-verbal cues you might usually rely on.’
If you make a joke, you might not be able to see the smiles on your coworkers' faces. If they’re muted you won’t hear them laugh. Cue tumbleweed.
This means that communicating virtually can be anxiety-inducing and uncomfortable for your employees, making it unlikely that they'll want to volunteer their best ideas or speak up like they usually would in the conference room or around the office.
Creativity and collaboration at speed
When it comes to brainstorming and coming up with creative solutions to a problem, many teams find that they communicate better together face-to-face. Can’t find that urgent file a client needs? Grab your colleague across the office. Trying to design a new product? Pick up a pencil and sketch it out with your peers.
In fact, one study analysed a team’s in-person brainstorming session and found that the more team members faced each other and made eye contact, the more creative ideas they were likely to have.
Employees feel energised by working on a problem together. And being together in person means they're more likely to bounce off someone else’s ideas to come up with great solutions.
Face-to-face interactions are better for effective communication because it's easier to see who wants to speak by looking at their face and body language. How many times did you interrupt someone else on a video call because neither of you realised the other was about to start speaking?
In-person meetings can run more smoothly and progress more efficiently when everyone in the room can read each other’s gestures with ease.
Of course, it's not impossible to collaborate via emails, messages or virtual meetings. Still, many businesses find that their employees are more creative and collaborative with in-person communication.
One of the biggest advantages of face-to-face communication is the added social component. While online meetings might start with everyone muted and staring blankly into their screens, face-to-face meetings are a chance for casual communication and catch-ups with coworkers.
Small talk is important for building relationships and a sense of belonging at work, so starting and ending face-to-face meetings with friendly chatter builds a strong foundation for your company culture. Working remotely removes a lot of the opportunities to find out about colleagues’ lives outside of their job and get to know them properly.
The advantages of face-to-face communication also extend to clients. Sure, you could just email prospective and existing clients or meet on Microsoft Teams, but virtual conversations aren't as good for building important relationships.
Choosing to meet face-to-face with clients shows that you are serious about the business relationship and want to commit time to them. It also gives you a chance to impress them with a swanky lunch or by showing off your new office in a buzzing coworking space.
For prospective clients, first impressions matter. Meeting face-to-face can give these interactions a personal touch that can really seal the deal.
The downside of virtual meetings
Has anyone else been playing video call bingo or is it just us?
“Can you see my screen?”
“You’re still muted”
“We've lost you!”
Sound familiar? At this point in the pandemic, it's unlikely that any person or remote team hasn't experienced at least some technical problems.
While these issues can usually be resolved fairly quickly, they put a strain on calls by distracting from the focus of the meeting and wasting time. In the best case scenario, they temporarily disrupt the flow of conversation and leave attendees feeling exasperated for a short time.
In the worst case scenario, they may make it impossible for presentations or meetings to go forward. A person with major IT issues might not be able to participate at all.
In face-to-face interactions, it's far easier to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard your name in a meeting and had to pretend your connection was bad and ask to repeat the question… Staring at faces on a screen all day can make it hard to stay engaged. One survey of American remote workers found that:
67% of workers are distracted in online meetings
55% are checking emails
39% are on social media
Over 50% are texting
45% are eating a snack
In virtual business meetings, it’s easy to get distracted by notifications or the 17 tabs you have open because you’re already looking at a screen.
Of course, people get distracted in in-person meetings, too. You might notice a colleague with a blank face, daydreaming instead of listening, or you might catch someone doodling instead of taking notes.
In a face-to-face conversation, it's pretty obvious if one of the participants zones out and starts checking their email. However, when you meet on an audio or video call, it's harder to keep everyone engaged and hold them accountable.
When we think of remote workers, we might imagine a bright home office with lots of plants and photo frames. But this often isn’t the reality. Working from home for some employees means being in the same room as family members or sitting at the dining table. For many people, especially women, virtual meetings mean juggling work with childcare.
Not everyone has a quiet and productive work environment at home and this can affect the whole team’s work. One survey found that 52% of remote workers reported being annoyed by loud background noises in their coworkers’ environments.
Another debate between virtual and in-person working is accessibility. One in five working adults in the UK are classed as disabled and it’s vital to find out how tech can help and hinder their workday.
Working remotely can be especially hard for your neurodivergent employees, such as those with ADHD. As one article explains, Zoom calls can be harder for a person with ADHD than in-person meetings because they are forced to sit still for a long period of time and find it far easier to get distracted.
With research showing that people with ADHD tend to be creative, outside-the-box thinkers, who can be innovative and detail-oriented at work, you’re doing your employees and your organisation a disservice if your meetings make it harder for them to participate.
So, virtual communication can make it hard for all your employees to be on the same page as they would be in the office where fewer distractions and greater engagement make it easier for everyone to participate.
What to use when
Of course with the changing regulations and advice for coronavirus, sometimes you don’t have a choice. But if you’re able to decide between in-person and virtual, here are some of the situations which work better with one or the other.
To give quick, simple instructions
For regular check-ins and updates on projects
For conversations that are straightforward and don't require creativity
For colleagues who find it easier to work remotely for accessibility or other reasons
If you need to come up with great ideas and creative solutions
When you need to discuss sensitive issues or difficult topics
When you need to work or problem solve at speed
To boost your team's enthusiasm and engagement in a project
To add a personal touch to the interaction
For colleagues who find in-person communication easier
Find what works for you
Whether you want a full-time office life, somewhere to host a few in-person events and meetings or a little bit of both, you need a space that works for you and your business. And what a coincidence, we can do just that.
Our spaces give you the flexibility you need to tackle this next phase of ‘new normal’ — and our lovely community team is here to help you every step of the way. That includes free cake and drinks and of course, dogs on demand.