We've all been there -- you receive an email, read it and make a rapid assumption based on the person's word usage and your current mood. Then you learn that what you thought was a harsh email was actually just an email sent in haste. This scenario plays itself out millions of times in thousands of offices around the country as text-based communications lack context from personal communication. According to Professor Albert Mehrabian's research, 55 percent of meaning is in facial expression and 38 percent of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said). In the business world, an environment heavily based on email and other impersonal forms of communication, it is easy for people to open themselves up to a wide variety of productivity inefficiencies and culture-draining ill feelings. So what needs to be done so that we can see less of this in the workplace? We need to bring people out of their digital cocoons to work with their colleagues in real-time. Despite all of the technology out there, there is little substitute for face to face interaction. Here are a few tips on how to create face-time in your workplace:
A Picture Solves a Thousand Business Problems
Visual thinking can help liven up face to face meetings. Dan Roam, author of the international bestseller The Back of the Napkin, is a strong believer in the power of pictures to help people solve complex problems. Brainstorming sessions often rely on word lists on an erasable surface, but a drawing can often help teams identify connections to other ideas and work through logistical issues. Encouraging employees to draw pictures lightens the mood, enables more creative thinking and helps create camaraderie amongst teammates. It also makes the notes more lasting. While no one is likely to re-read that word document with the bullet points from that meeting six months ago, a photo of a graphically illustrated meeting can be hung by the water fountain and will keep strategies fresh in employees minds.
Important Meetings Should be In Person
It is nearly impossible to solely have meetings in person, but it is recommended to mandate employees' presence for the important ones. A great example is building internal teams at work. A great example of this is with new hires; an email goes out welcoming a new team member and that's it -- no proper introduction or meaningful process for getting to know them. Wouldn't it be great if a follow-up to that email was an in-person brainstorming meeting about a project he or she will be working on? The team can instantly begin to work together and foster relationships while adding a new perspective to help solve a deep-seated problem.
The power of organic, personal chemistry in an ideation session is important. Virtual brainstorms can eat up hours of a group's time as everyone contributes to the email thread or Wiki but rarely generate the same amount of creativity. People are social by nature and it is not uncommon for the group to catch fire and build great ideas on top of great ideas. Brainstorms can be kicked off with an email -- in fact, it is recommended so contributors can prepare -but coming together as team and having everyone illustrate their thoughts is far more productive.
Digital technologies are amazing tools in the short-term but can have negative effects if relied upon for too long or too much. No amount of technology can replace emotion and team-building, so it is important that your company neglect in-person meetings in favor of the ease of firing off emails. Employees can build stronger relationships, ideas can take on new forms and overall culture improves when people work and play together in the same space.
If this is common practice where you work, I would love to hear your success stories -- leave a comment below!