Emails, conference calls and even texting are just some of the ways that technology has changed how people communicate in the workplace and with clients.
While tech enabled communication remains an important part of most businesses, face-to-face meetings still have an important role to play, says Toby Shapshak, editor, columnist and strategist speaker with a focus on innovation in Africa.
All business, in one way or another, is about relationships, says Shapshak. It’s all too easy, when all communications happens online, to forget this.
“Face-to-face is literally what we are designed to do as human beings. We know how to read each other’s body language and other subtle signs. For a business that provides any kind of service, knowing your customer and knowing how they operate (and react) is too important to leave to an email.”
The True Value of Face-to-Face Interaction
Financially, it is also within the interest of all businesses to find the middle ground – to take advantage of the convenience of technology, while also prioritising face-to-face interactions.
A 2009 study by Oxford Economics ‘The return on investment of US Business Travel,’ looking at the relationship between business travel and organisational performance, reported that beyond just relationship building there are also financial benefits to meeting in person.
“Business travel directly leads to an increase in both corporate revenue and profits. The study found that every dollar invested in business travel results in $12.50 in added revenues and $3.80 in new profits.”
“The research informs us that when a company reduces its travel budget, it loses both revenue and profits, giving competitors a real advantage”
The irony, however, is that it is during tough times that most businesses are quick to cut travel costs in an effort to minimise costs and save money. This is exactly what they should avoid doing, says Adam Sacks, managing director of Oxford Economics USA who is quoted in the study. Those cost cutting efforts can actually harm the business in the long run, he adds.
“The research informs us that when a company reduces its travel budget, it loses both revenue and profits, giving competitors a real advantage,” says Sacks.
Shapshak shares this view, saying that the cost-effectiveness and convenience of emailing and messaging does not always benefit the business as most entrepreneurs would hope.
“Goedkoop is duurkoop, as the Afrikaans idiom goes. Cheaper can ultimately be more expensive – to paraphrase the Afrikaans idiom. Digital messaging is faster and more efficient, but it isn’t necessarily better – certainly when there are problems,” says Shapshak.
In person communication has one additional advantage over its online counterpart – there are less opportunities for misunderstandings. This includes errors such as misinterpretations of meaning, tone and emotions.
“The problem with communicating via technology (especially written text like email) is that it has none of the visual clues and information a face-to-face meeting has. You can read subtle signs on someone’s face when they are joking or being sarcastic, but you can never glean sarcasm or humour correctly with email; or on social media.
“For that reason, and for building up better personal relationships with business partners or clients, nothing beats the real-world encounter. Software developers and service providers have begun to realize this. People like to deal with people, not emails or text messages,” says Shapshak.
Shapshak’s advice is for entrepreneurs to resort to email and other digital tools for communication that don’t require the “human touch” such as account updates or sending invoices.