There's Something About Being Together: The Benefit of Face-to-Face Collaboration
Last week, I was speaking with my awesome colleague, Rabab Zia (she’s a Project Designer), about her experience at a Manhattan-based new project design meeting. The meeting was in-person with a few members from the elite|studio e foodservice consulting team, the architect, the client and other project consultants. She has had in person meetings a few times for this project and each time has returned the office enthusiastic and feeling positive about her experience.
Rabab and I were discussing the benefit of meeting in-person with the whole team versus sitting on a video conference via Teams, Zoom or some other platform. She mentioned how wonderful it is to make decisions on the spot and how even though there’s a commute involved, you’re probably cutting time spent sending several emails back and forth to make a decision. Plus, you get the opportunity to know the team a little bit better!
Later that week, I was in a meeting with some of our team leads. I shared this story with them because I felt there were some good takeaways. It came up that prior to the pandemic, this was the norm. The consultants, architects and others would block a few hours to meet in person, make decisions, speak through challenges, and brainstorm ideas. For some projects this happened regularly.
My conversation with Rabab just got me thinking about the benefits of in-person meetings versus video calls. It’s no secret that effective collaboration is vital to any business.
Studies show that it helps teams work together toward their goals, promote productivity, and make employees feel happier, more engaged and more valued. (View source here.)
But why are collaborative meetings better in person than a video call? What are the benefits?
Nonverbal Communication While an in-person meeting isn’t exactly the Nixon Vs. Kennedy Presidential Debate, there is definitely something to be said about body language and appearance. It demonstrates that you care about how you present yourself and represent your firm.
In addition, in the case of a project meeting, people don’t always convey what they’re trying to say with words. If you’re at home with the video off because the cat is climbing all over your keyboard, we can’t see someone roll their eyes at an idea they don’t like or someone hesitate to respond because they’re just not comfortable speaking up. “Meeting people face to face helps you analyze micro-behaviors like body language, facial expressions, and eye contact,” said Entreprenur.com.
Noticing nonverbal indicators provides the opportunity to dig deeper and ask the questions to find out what an individual is thinking.
Builds Loyalty and Trust
Did you know that customers who have an emotional relationship with a brand will recommend the company at a rate of 71%, rather than the average rate of 45%? (View source here). In our case, the elite | studio e team is a tremendous part of our brand because we offer an intellectual service and not a physical product like a computer or a stove. The relationships we build and nurture are critical to delivering the caliber of business we promise.
Face to face meetings with clients and customers will increase the emotional relationship and will help build loyalty. Remember when you were looking for your first job? How many times did you hear something about a firm handshake being important? I’m just saying it was something we all tried to perfect … and there was a simple reason for that. As humans, we naturally want to meet and interact with the people we are doing business with. We put a lot of effort into those first handshakes … and every handshake thereafter.
They haven’t perfected this virtually, but I don’t think a “shake hand” button on Teams would do it!
The lightbulb went off! Your team is in the middle of coming up with a really good idea. Then it happens … the WiFi lags or everyone is saying … “You’re on mute” to the person who is speaking. This just doesn’t happen in an in-person meeting. The ideas and conversation flow, and you’re not left trying to remember what the big idea was before that technical mishap … need I say more?
People tend to participate more in face-to-face meetings because there isn’t that opportunity to do anything else. Technology is great! But if you’re on a virtual meeting, you’re more likely to be distracted … scrolling through Facebook, checking ESPN for the latest scores or even interruptions from kids. Remember this BBC interview?
Sometimes a regular discussion (let alone a collaborative discussion) doesn’t flow over video chat. Stilted conversation is something we’ve all faced when working remote – 10 people are talking at once or there’s an awkward silence because you can’t quite read “the room”.
Water Cooler Chat
So often I’m walking with a colleague after a meeting – maybe we’re heading back to our desks or to refill our coffees – and one of us will say “You know I have an idea … “, often building on what was discussed in the meeting. The continuation of the conversation doesn’t happen when you’re walking to the Keurig in your kitchen.
Exchange of Knowledge
When you put all the experts in one room you throw ideas out there, share information and experiences. In our world, it’s not just about the collaboration, which we’ll dive into later, but also the ability to discuss how the idea may affect the other consultants’ area of expertise.
For example, let’s say you’re renovating a café that’s located above an IT room (that was bad planning on someone’s part to start), you’d probably want to rectify the potential for leaks on your IT room as part of the renovation. So, who do you need in the room – the architect, the foodservice consultant, an IT specialist, the electrical engineer, a plumber? Together, this group of experts will know what complies with the building codes, the technical needs (what do all those wires connect to in that IT room?), and the foodservice equipment needs (think water for your sinks and the weight of some of the equipment).
Echoing what Rabab said, it’s easier to make decisions on the spot. Could you imagine emailing this discussion or taking it on Zoom?
Sharing Creative Ideas
“Collaboration has been behind some of humanity’s greatest achievements – the Beatles’ biggest hits, putting a man on the moon, the smartphone. Do Zoom and other forms of video interaction crush the creative process that led to such feats? Yes”, according to an April 2022 CNN article.
This article certainly cited scientific research, but here’s what I’ll say. Face-to-face meetings simplify attendees’ ability to detect when someone speaking is complete, allowing the individuals to feel more comfortable when contributing their thoughts.
Circling back to my conversation with Rabab, getting together around the table provides participants the opportunity to share their ideas on a whiteboard, tracing paper or floorplan mark up to ensure everyone is on the same page. And I’d definitely recommend scheduling a face-to-face meeting when challenging strategies or creative ideas need to be discussed with a group.
Here, at elite | studio e, these in person meetings are where the magic happens – from an internal meeting where we began developing semi-permanent pods, to collaborating with an architect on designing a foodservice concept to be a focal point that’ll draw people into a space.
Collaborative meetings and casual collisions are critical to the design process in our office.
So join us! Grab some coffee, share ideas, try different approaches, and then there it is — the aha! moment.