Will We Need Face-to-Face Meetings Post Covid-19?
In the current Covid-19 pandemic, one thing is for sure; we have to rethink the way we do business. The same applies to how we develop the skills and capabilities of our workforce. Every employee had to adapt almost overnight, muddling their way through zoom meetings and getting to grips with other technologies with very little training. For the most part, organisations have adapted seamlessly, and the question is: Do we still need face to face interaction?
The answer is yes, and here are six reasons why.
Body language forms an essential part of the overall communication process. It is necessary to see the other participant or group of attendees to interpret body language and act on specific non-verbal cues.
Face-to-face communication is indeed possible through conference calls. However, non-verbal communication extends to more than just facial expression. The following six types of non-verbal communication, as listed on helpguide.org are at risk during a video conference or virtual meeting.
Body movement and posture
Our perception of people is influenced by how they carry themselves during a meeting. Although we can see their general posture during a video conference, it creates another layer of non-verbal cues to take into account. Considering that participants are often in a home environment, they are not necessarily presenting themselves the way they would in a formal meeting room setting. There may also be external factors, such as children and pets, that may distract or influence their posture or demeanour.
There is a pronounced barrier during virtual meetings, and participants have access to a limited number of non-verbal cues when engaging with each other through a virtual medium. For example, they will not be able to observe the other party walking or standing during a coffee break. Important body language, such as the position they stand in when facing you, subtle hand movements or the way they hold their head during a conversation, can offer additional information to assess language and communication.
Participants, therefore, miss out on the opportunity to build rapport, create relationships or resolve potential issues when they do not have regular interpersonal communication.
Gestures form an undeniable part of our day to day lives. We use our hands to support verbal communication. We express ourselves through pointing, waving or simply being animated while speaking.
When we communicate through a screen, we may not be able to observe all hand gestures. For example, many gestures may be outside the parameters of the screen and does not, therefore, support the verbal communication as intended on a subconscious level.
It is challenging to make or maintain eye contact during a group zoom meeting or virtual conference. For a start, not all participants enable the video setting while others may read or look down while listening to the speaker. Making eye contact through a screen does not come naturally to most of us, yet the visual sense is an essential type of non-verbal communication. The way we look at people relay many non-verbal cues, such as respect, dismissal, affection and even disdain. Eye contact can mean the difference between the continuous flow of conversation or a one-sided conversation without the ability to understand the audience's response accurately.
There are many non-verbal cues we deliver in support of our verbal messages—everything from the volume to subtle inflexions in our voice. We use these tools to provide sarcasm, humour or earnestness in our words.
When engaging through a virtual medium, the tone of voice, inflexion and intonation can be affected by various technical elements such as the wi-fi signal, poor quality of sound or background noise.
A person conveys valuable information by the amount of space they occupy during a conversation. We instinctively experience a range of emotions when people enter our personal space to communicate a verbal message. For example, we can feel intimidated when an assertive person comes too close. Equally, we feel relaxed and supported when both parties occupy an equal amount of space.
Although touch is something we cannot engage in during the current pandemic, it delivers essential non-verbal cues during the communication process. These non-verbal messages include everything from a firm handshake to an affectionate hug or a controlling grip on the arm, to name but a few. It defines roles, influence perception and determines our perceptiveness to specific messages. In simple terms, it tells us where we stand.
We may very well return to a post-Covid-19 world where business acquaintances and colleagues can return to engaging through touch as a part of their non-verbal toolkit. Non-verbal messages delivered through touch will be impossible to convey if virtual meetings and video conferences continue to take preference after this pandemic.
Reports show that non-verbal communication forms as much as 93% of all communication. Many of those messages may get lost in the process of communicating via virtual channels. Although video conferences and virtual meetings will form an essential part of future meetings, we must maintain face-to-face meetings to communicate effectively, using all our senses to understand the non-verbal cues that support the verbal message.
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