Webcams On! The Benefits of Personal Conversations in a Digital World

Webcam meeting

Written by Joel Fuernsinn, Insight Global Director of Data & Analytics

“They more or less ignore what is being said — a lot gets lost in translation, after all. They pay attention to the facial expressions and body language of the people they are talking to. And that’s how they know what’s going on inside a person’s head — by condensing fact from the vapor of nuance.” – Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

 For the past year, the whole world shifted to operating in a virtual state. And just when things appeared to be approaching normalcy with the vaccine roll out, the delta variant wrecked many  plans on returning to in-person gatherings. At least for the time being, many now find themselves back to being engrossed in reading and responding to email threads, group chats, and social media posts instead of face to face interactions with their peers and co-workers.But the ease and speed of that communication makes it easy to forget the benefits and connection of in-person, video, or even simple voice communication. Chat and email are inherently limited in their ability to convey emotion. An emoji at the end of a sentence may provide a shortcut, but humor, inflection, body language, and real personality are extremely difficult to get digitally. That difficulty only compounds when you take into account people from different backgrounds, countries, and cultures.

Particularly in a business setting, where building great culture and relationships can be the difference between success and failure, the effectiveness of real conversations cannot be overlooked. A recent study from UT Austin concluded that “when they really interacted, people felt significantly more connected when they communicated by talking than by typing… In fact, the voice itself — even without visual cues — seemed to be integral to bonding, the researchers found.”1  A separate 2017 study found that “participants who made requests over email felt essentially just as confident about the effectiveness of their requests as those who made their requests face-to-face, even though face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than emailed ones.”2  More anecdotally, we can all relate to the difference when someone is really engaged in a conversation with you versus someone who is isn’t. And while we may have to pause our plans to meet again in person, body language, facial expressions, and eye contact give you immediate feedback on how they are reacting, even if via video call.  A smile, a frown, a lean in, or a check of a phone all provide crucial signals and let you adjust to the situation and audience.

 The bonding that comes with these more analog types of communication will, in turn, help drive the culture you want to create. From creativity and innovation, to engagement and retention, to productivity and efficiency, your corporate culture can have a significant impact.

 So start picking up the phone instead of hitting “Reply All.” Capitalize on opportunities to meet, talk, collaborate, brainstorm and learn on a video call, especially in a technologically-advanced world. Not only will you start to reap the benefits in your relationships, your business will work more efficiently and effectively, with much less time and effort.