Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Benefits of face-to-face communication

I practically live on the phone.  I get on the phone to talk to development team in India.  I get on the phone to speak to sales engineering team all over the world.  I get on the phone to talk to customers and support team.  Thanks to desktop sharing apps like WebEx and Microsoft OCS, I get to share documents, do awkward whiteboard drawing using my trackball, and get to see the feature requests or bugs directly as it happens on customer environment.

I cannot imagine working without a phone line and desktop sharing application.

But whenever I get to visit a customer, a sales person, a support engineer or anyone in person, I realize how much signal I am missing from just muffled VoIP audios.  It's like one of those moments when you don't realize what you are missing until you actually try it.  All of sudden you are noticing details that you did not notice from voice calls.  The information bandwidth is qualitatively different with a in-person meeting.

That's exactly what I went through the last couple of days.  I traveled out to east coast to meet with a customer, Actiance social media team, and a partner.  Everyone of them I have spoken to them over the phone number of times, and I felt as if I had met them already.  Yet, meeting some of them for the first time in person gave me a new appreciation of how little information was available when I was just talking to them on the phone.

The biggest missing piece is not seeing the facial expression and making the eye contacts.  As we talk, we constantly change our facial expressions and use that to express the emotional state.  By looking at the speaker's face, we can identify what is causing the stress or happiness and what the speaker's intent is.  Even worse, most of people I speak do on the phone, I don't even know what they look like.

It is easy to underestimate this non verbal communication.  Yet until we all get out of office and start meeting people face-to-face, we cannot appreciate how much signals that we are missing.

It's lot of interruption to the daily routine to hop on a plane and travel.  But the communication bandwidth is a couple of magnitudes higher with in-person meetings.  If you haven't done so lately, it's time to schedule in-person meeting instead of hopping on a Skype chat.

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