It’s hardly surprising that many of us prefer online to face-to-face communication these days. Talking to someone takes time and energy. And often, that 'face-to-face' just ends up being a rushed coffee or an endless meeting anyway. But face-to-face still has real value. That’s why savvy businesses are finding new ways to do it.
Find inspiring spaces
The Hoxby Collective brings together teams of Associates to work on specific briefs – skillsets range from planning to branding. Everyone works remotely but face-to-face is still important.
"In the traditional corporate world, meetings can be a big old time-suck. It’s easy to lose yourself in back-to-back meetings all day rather than focus on what’s important and the outputs you’re trying to get to," says founder Lizzie Penny. "As freelancers, when we do meet we have to use the time constructively and be laser-focused on why we are meeting."
So, every month, the founders throw a Hoxby Home event. "We rent a beautiful, inspiring space for the day. It moves around the world every month, and any Hoxby who is in the area for business or pleasure can drop in for the whole day, between meetings, or just for a few drinks after work. It's a chance for us to collaborate on projects or work on our own and put a friendly face to a funny online conversation."
Grey airless cubes aren’t designed to maximise creativity, she points out. "Consider breaking out of the usual working environment into inspiring spaces. These could be Airbnb style homes you rent, cafes, art galleries or even a park on a sunny day."
Use meeting hacks
Emily Austen, founder and MD of PR agency Emerge, employs a few hacks to keep meetings relevant. "If the meeting is internal, and less than three people, we do walking meetings. We go for a walk around Fitzrovia and chat as we go. It tends to be a great break, and I find my staff are more vocal about any issues, or ideas - possibly because of the change of scenery."
And she also never books meetings on the hour, or the half hour. "If I book a meeting at 09:10, people tend to arrive at 0900 and the meeting actually begins on time. If the meeting begins at 0900, by the time everyone arrives and has a coffee you’ve eaten 15 minutes into the slot. And I never wait for someone if they aren’t there on time. It’s their responsibility to catch up if they are late. The meeting won’t wait."
Go back to basics
Ben Govier, director and founder of digital flat fee recruiter CLEAR hire, says his company has gone back to traditional methods of communication. "We get so much more value from those than from webinars or Skype. We try to be different but not with quirky technology or gadgets. People will buy from people and that means eye contact.
"So we’ll tell clients or visitors that we are turning our phone off at the start of a meeting so we don’t become distracted. This encourages other person to do the same. When was the last time you spoke to someone for 45 minutes without any interruptions? Try it - it’s amazing what you can achieve. Use paper and a pen and ditch the iPad. You may be taking notes, but as far as the client’s concerned you could be playing Angry Birds."
Ditch false formality
Howard Lewis runs OFFLINE, a social and business networking initiative which holds monthly dinners. Gadgets strictly forbidden, and attendees don’t know who else will be coming. There’s also no emphasis on doing business, which allows, says Lewis, "an ethos of generosity of spirit and an open mind."
He says that many of us dread traditional 'business' face-to-face communications because we’re afraid of making mistakes. "But ignorance is not a crime but an opportunity to learn. The most interesting people are the most interested and they embrace their vulnerabilities."
The solution? Get rid of those structures that lead to fear. "Remove the false formality that reinforces hierarchies. Eat together. Recognise that a business is nothing without its people. And personalise communication. A handwritten note to clients or colleagues can mean so much - even if they can't read your writing."