Productivity

There is No Replacement for Face-to-Face Conversation at the Office

As hilarious as this video is, it’s also a depressing look at the reality of the workplace today. Between inefficient conference calls, mile-long email threads, and confusing chat conversations that leave you wondering if someone is mad at you or just being direct…one thing is for certain. We’re drawing a line in the sand today and putting it out there: There is no replacement for face-to-face conversation in the workplace.

We avoid face-to-face conversation because we associate that with meetings. Meetings are notoriously poorly run, too long, and unproductive. We’ve overcompensated for that though and now we rely on technology too much. We figure it’s quicker to send an email or hit someone up on Hipchat than to have another God-forsaken meeting.

Working from home is another aspect of this. That this is an option at many companies is a triumph for work-life balance, but we’re still figuring out the nuances of communication in this new environment. The person you’re talking to is halfway across the world. You can’t walk over to his desk. Surely there are companies that have entirely remote teams, but many of these companies also have regular in-person full-staff meetings. It appears that the value of the face-to-face connection is not completely lost on remote teams.

As a workforce we need to realize communication doesn’t have to be about the less of two evils – a huge meeting or an inconclusive email chain. Executives need to be more available for short in-person catchups to provide feedback or approval that will keep projects moving forward. If a conversation is going in circles over chat or email, we need to know when to bring it offline so that we can continue to make progress on that deliverable. We need to bring back the concept of stopping by someone’s desk for a quick chat or grabbing a conference room for a short meeting. For catching up with a remote teammate, video chat can go a long way – but even a conference room would be beneficial for some privacy with that.

There’s just something about seeing the expression on someone’s face when she explains something. It feels more collaborative to come to a decision together in real-time,  as opposed to reading each other’s edited words on a chat screen.

But anyone in today’s workplace knows, pathetically, how tricky finding the time and space to have these conversations actually is.

Finding Your Boss When You Need Her

Executives are busy. They are constantly in meetings. With more responsibilities outside of the workplace, they may work from home more often than the 20-something middle-managers looking for them. Answering the question “Is so and so in the office today?” or “Does anyone know where so and so is?” is actually tricky if someone doesn’t keep her calendar updated with every little impromptu conversation she gets pulled into throughout the day. Given this reality, it’s understandable why their subordinates – especially digitally-oriented millenials – rely on email or chat. But given the volume of email executives have and the time it takes them to weed through it all, we know why this approach doesn’t line up with the fast pace of the business world.

Finding A Space to Chat

Thanks to the tech boom and some recovery from the recession, hiring has skyrocketed for certain industries over the past few years. That’s great news, except when companies are locked into long-term commercial leases and quickly outgrow their spaces. Things are crowded to say the least. If you want to take a conversation offline, finding a conference room at a moment’s notice is nearly impossible for a lot of companies. Hallways, stairwells, park bences, local coffee shops – you name it – everything becomes a conference room. Being resourceful is all fine and well. It’s what startups are all about, after all. But certain confidential conversations would be a little reckless to have outside of company walls. Finding a space to chat shouldn’t be so hard. Because this prevents certain conversations from happening, it prevents things from getting done. Making progress makes people happy, sometimes even happier than money or titles or other crap.

Technology Can Help

Technology is often blamed as the thing that actually causes this isolation and miscommunication and over-reliance on stuff like email. We think it can help. Last week, we introduced Robin at Work, which is our offering that helps offices actually improve communication.

Presence Broadcasting: Using the Robin Identity app, you can share where you are in the office with your co-workers on a central dashboard that the company has access to. So, in the case of the busy executive, you can make yourself more available to your team so they can find you if they have a question. Additionally, if you are out of the office for the day, they can see that.

Conference Room Booking: With the Robin Identity app, you share certain information with an office. That information can include your Google calendar. A Robin-enabled conference room knows who is in the space based on that Identity app. So, you walk into the conference room for a quick chat, and it’ll check to see if the room is open. If it is, it’ll book the room for you for a little bit so you can have a chat. This makes it easier for you to perhaps take those online conversations offline and have better discussions with your co-workers.

Everything We Do Depends On How We Communicate

We’ve got to communicate better. The productivity of our businesses and our economy depends on it. One business’ success can potentially be like that idea of a pebble in the pond – the net positive impact of it extend way way beyond just that one company. We can either keep screwing around on gChat or waiting for someone reply to our emails, or we can get serious about getting things done and find a better way to communicate.

Interested in learning about what Robin can do for your office? Read it up here.