We previously wrote about the importance of eye contact not just for business, but for general communication. This infographic from CT Business Travel drives the point home even further.
What about virtual meetings?
Virtual meetings and telecommutes are now a fact of life. They aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They’ve helped reduce both the monetary and environmental costs of travel, and many businesses today would simply be unable to function if every interaction had to be done in person.
But as great as telecommutes are, they aren’t ever going to be the same as the real thing in the foreseeable future.
It’s all about being human.
About 15 years ago, I was watching an old documentary about the First World War. The details are fuzzy, but I remember they were interviewing a French fighter pilot who was long-dead at the time the documentary aired.
He mentioned not really caring about about the pilots in the enemy planes he shot at in his first few weeks at the front. But one day he chanced upon a German aircraft undetected and he was able to get off a machine-gun volley that caused his target to burst into a cloud of smoke. As his own plane flew closer, he finally got to see one of the enemy pilots up close.
He could see the other man bleeding and struggling to keep their stricken plane in the air. A feeling of dread then crept over the French pilot, and without thinking he exclaimed — “My God! There’s a man in that plane!”
The story as horrible as this story is, drives home the point that it becomes easy to dehumanize people we don’t know – moreso if we don’t meet them in person. Any barrier that prevents us from seeing other people in the flesh hampers our understanding and empathy.
It’s worth mentioning that when Marissa Meyer took over as Yahoo!’s CEO that she ended telecommutes, with the rationale that teams are far more effective when individual members are in close physical proximity with each other. Steve Jobs (who I’m personally sick of mentioning every other post) also was a huge believer in the necessity of face-time, designing the Pixar HQ to maximize the chances for collaboration.
Even as the world becomes more and more interconnected, where you physically are still matters. If anything, the willingness to meet face-to-face when everyone else isn’t can be the very thing that takes your client and vendor relationships — and your enterprise — to the next level.
Did we mess up somewhere? Love it? Hate it? Comment below!