Engagement + Marketing

The Evidence-Based Case for Face-to-Face

There's new research to back up what most of us in the meetings industry already intuitively understand: Digital interactions can only get you so far. Sometimes you just need to meet face-to-face.

Gregory Northcraft, a professor of executive leadership at the University of Illinois, put three methods of communication to the test in a recent research project — he compared the results of student groups who worked together by e-mail, Skpe and videoconferencing, or face-to-face. The group who worked face-to-face achieved more and trusted one another more than the other two groups. The videoconferencing group ranked second, followed by e-mail.

What’s going on? “High-tech communication strips away the personal interaction needed to breed trust,” concluded Northcraft, who holds a doctorate in social psychology and studies workplace collaboration, motivation, and decision-making. “Technology has made us much more efficient, but much less effective.”

Northcraft isn’t recommending that organizations stop using e-mail or videoconferencing. The key is recognizing the danger of relying exclusively on high-tech “lean” communications methods, he says. “If you don’t, the bottom line is that the job won’t get done as well.”

Northcraft’s conclusions also offers compelling support for the case for attending annual meetings. It turns out that face-to-face is such a rich experience, it casts a glow over future digital communications — at least for a while.

“Physical contact has a half life,” Northcraft said. “When people meet face to face, they can leverage that over a pretty lean communication medium for a while and the relationship will not degrade. But after a while, they need to get back together face to face to recharge the trust, the engagement and the loyalty in the relationship.”

Thanks to the PCMA LinkedIn group, and the University of Illinois News Bureau.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.