There are numerous advantages that our "connected" world provides in the way of developing and maintaining relationships over long distances. Working on virtual teams in a global environment has become seamless through the help of services like Skype and GoToMeeting, and keeping up with friends, colleagues, and distant family is easier than ever with Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.
But make no mistake, these are not a substitution for face-to-face interactions, particularly when we are starting a relationship with a new colleague.
I am a staunch supporter of workplace flexibility, which offers employees the option to work from anywhere as much as possible. That being said, working virtually does come at a price, and we need to be clear about the trade-offs. I am tremendously productive when working in my home office if I need to write a blog, draft a workshop, or do follow-up work resulting from meetings. However, I do not develop relationships virtually if I can arrange a face-to-face meeting -- even if it involves two hours of drive time to get there and back. Relationships, both working and personal, require building trust, and while that can be done virtually over time, the process is much quicker, happens more organically, and deeper bonds are formed when we can be eye-to-eye, or in the same room for a shared experience, to begin relationships on a solid foundation.
As I'm sure many of you remember, it used to be that all meetings were face-to-face. Then we moved to conference calls, followed by the even more impersonal email. The reason video conferencing and other collaborative work tools have become so important is that too much is missed when we are just on the phone or sending emails, and we crave some face time. There is a famous experiment called the McGurk effect that shows how the input we get from audio alone or visual alone can be confusing and lead to multiple misunderstandings. When we add in working across cultures, time zones and languages, having face-to-face time becomes critical to a working group. Teams that spend time together develop a stronger group dynamic that yields creativity, true collaboration and innovation. Then, once the group has formed and relationships have been established, we can stay connected and even strengthen the existing relationships virtually.