It’s possible today to run a company and serve customers from totally unconventional isolated settings. You can be the CEO of a multi-million-dollar venture and oversee the whole thing from a spare bedroom in northern New Hampshire. Or you can be that firm’s bookkeeper and crunch its numbers from a solar-powered grass hut you alone occupy on a South Pacific tropical island beach. For that, you can thank the Internet and the existence of software addressing every conceivable business activity or purpose. The point is lots of people like working in virtual offices. But a problem with that kind of arrangement is virtual office workers tend to be isolated from colleagues and customers. They seldom see and interact with one another face to face. Yet people instinctively crave what’s usually referred to as “face time.”
Valet recently gathered its team for a discussion of face time and the challenges of fostering it in a virtual-office environment. Sharing their thoughts on this subject were Valet Co-Founder and CEO Kimberly Lipari, Client Success Manager Maureen Crist, Client Success Lead Eric Dye, Client Success Pro Milos Milosevic, Lead Developer Josh Shashaty, Technical Project Manager and Developer Daisy Olsen, and Site Health Pro Valerio Vaz. All of them work from virtual offices across the U.S. and scattered around the world.
VALET: How do you define “face time”?
ERIC: Face time is any communication that is face-to-face.
KIMBERLY: I believe the definition of face time is subject to the purpose of the meeting. It could be an in-person encounter. Or it could be a video call.
VALET: But do video conferences really count as face time?
MILOS: Yes, they do. You can see the person you are talking with. And even better, you do not need to go anywhere.
DAISY: I disagree. Video calls are better than text-only for deeper communication, but they don’t replace being physically in the same space with someone.
MAUREEN: I think it depends on whether the meeting is internal or client facing. Video conferencing definitely counts as face time for internal meetings. For client facing contact, video conferencing is better than no face time, but it’s not the same as actually being there in person. Besides, many clients prefer to keep their cameras turned off or to dial into the video conference. In those instances, there’s no video and so it’s basically the same as a phone call.
JOSH: No. Video conferences do not count as face time. When you do a video conference, there’s the opportunity for you to do things that aren’t related to the discussion. Like, you could be playing solitaire while the other person is talking. That’s a distraction, and the other person wouldn’t know about it. But with actual, in-person face time, you can’t do that. Face time allows for no distractions. So, in my view, video conferencing isn’t really face time.
VALET: But aren’t video conferences valuable nonetheless?
ERIC: Sure are. The importance of face time is giving everyone the ability to read the visual aspects of nonverbal communication. This added element gives everyone an extra layer of context and understanding that is certainly valuable. These signals are exchanged whether this is in-person or via video conference.
KIMBERLY: Seeing someone’s face and connecting with them using as many senses as possible are what make people feel connected. Video conferencing isn’t a substitute for actual meetings, handshakes, and the like. But, still, it can be incredibly powerful for relating and connecting. It stimulates the portions of the brain that store information and associate feelings of trust and emotion with the person on the other end of the conversation. So put me in the yes column.
VALET: What are the specific benefits of face time—and what are the actual, tangible consequences of neglecting it?
VALERIO: I saw in the Washington Post where face-to-face meetings are the best way to capture a person’s full attention. There was research in that article showing that asking to meet with someone face-to-face is 34 times more effective than if you ask by email. It also said a physical handshake promotes greater success.
ERIC: Being able to communicate face-to-face adds a very helpful layer of nonverbal communication. This makes communication more robust. It also increases engagement between speakers and receivers. To be able to see one another’s faces and expressions adds a human dynamic that easily gets lost otherwise. That Washington Post article Valerio mentioned also said that more than eight in ten executives prefer in-person meetings to virtual contact.
MAUREEN: Meeting with someone in person provides a deeper level of communication and develops a stronger relationship. You can read their body language, you can know when it’s time to stop the discussion and clarify confusing points—these are things that can easily go unnoticed during a video conference call. The consequences of neglecting face time are a lower level of engagement from both parties which can result in accounts and employees churning.
KIMBERLY: The human brain processes engagement with our conversational counterparts using various levels of senses. If you’re face-to-face, you’re using your full capacity to relate to and engage in conversation. As Josh said, no face-time allows for distractions. Plus, once the encounter ends, the memory of what you’ve been talking about fades and loses importance.
DAISY: I used to work for a company that brought all its employees together once a year for a face-to-face meeting. Then they stopped doing that. Morale across the entire company took a huge hit. Worse, interpersonal tensions increased.
VALET: What’s the biggest challenge a company encounters when trying to insert more face time into the picture?
VALERIO: The more spread out the employees are, the harder it is to overcome the problem of time zones. If everyone is at a remote location in, say, the Eastern time-zone, it’s not much of a challenge to coordinate schedules. But if you also have people in Australia, for instance, coordination becomes much more difficult, since morning in Sydney is yesterday afternoon in New York.
MILOS: A big challenge I see is the need for companies to invest in ensuring that remote workers have good, reliable connections and tools for online meetings. Another challenge is scheduling the right amount of meetings, whether online or in-person. If you have too many meetings, it diminishes their importance. Too few and you lose opportunities to make progress.
VALET: What about costs?
JOSH: If you meet face-to-face, you’ve got travel costs to deal with. And your productivity suffers because travel takes away time you could be spending at your workstation creating things or solving problems.
DAISY: Along the same lines as what Josh is saying, the larger and more globally distributed a team is the greater the financial and logistical burdens of bringing everyone together. Personally, I believe it’s worth the time, effort, and expense to be able to come together as a company once or twice a year in a designated physical location.
MAUREEN: Agreed. Cost is the biggest hurdle to delivering more face time. Here at Valet, our annual gathering of internal employees has helped us develop a stronger bond as a team.
ERIC: Face time is always economically justifiable. It’s whether or not you need additional tools to augment face time. Generally speaking, it never should be an economic stress to incorporate face time into an organization’s communication toolbox.
VALET: How frequently should face time occur?
JOSH: At least once a year.
DAISY: You should hold a large-group gathering at least one time per year. For a smaller gathering, you should consider holding it twice a year or even quarterly.
VALERIO: Internally, in a virtual office environment, you should look at having face time once every day for 3o minutes. Once every two days would be good if the team is involved in long-facing projects.
ERIC: It’s not about the quantity of time so much as it is about the quality. However much or little face time you’re able to manage, you need to make sure that it’s used as best as possible.
KIMBERLY: Face time should occur as frequently as possible. Since we’ve been referencing the article from the Washington Post, this seems like an appropriate juncture to cite the part where they quoted a public-relations professor who said the need for face time is universal across industries because, ultimately, everyone is in a business that revolves around people. And face time is all about making connections with people.