Why do face-to-face meetings still matter?

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A. Social meetings

The apparent opposition between online and offline social interactions is a false debate, as they nurture each other. Most of online networks started from a physical meeting. For example, you become friend with someone on Facebook after having met him or her in your real life. The contrary is also possible, you can meet a stranger in a dating website and meet him or her for real at a later stage. Online social networks add another dimension to human interaction and extend possibilities for defining relationships. However, face-to-face interactions remain the only viable gauge to really assess individual’s preferences for another and to build long-term relationships.

B. Business meetings

If ICT facilitates virtual business meetings, ICT also present well-identified limitations regarding its outcomes. To quote Professor Richard D. Arvey, Ph.D. Business School, National University of Singapore, from his report “Why Face-to-Face Business Meetings Matter” : “Group processes and outcomes that require coordination, consensus, timing, persuasion of others, etc. are less effectively accomplished using computer mediated communication modalities. Indeed, according to Straus and McGrath5, the type of communication medium is likely to affect outcomes “when there is a need for the expression of emotions, when tasks require coordination and timing among members’ activities, when one is attempting to persuade others, or with task require consensus on issues that are affected by attitudes or values of the group members.” (Straus and McGrath, p. 163). Under these circumstances, face-to-face communications are likely to be more effective compared to computer mediated devices.”
“From simply a business perspective, research has also demonstrated the superiority of business meetings compared to electronic communication devices in the context of decision-making. A study conducted by Baltes, Dickson, Shereman, Bauer, & LaGanke and published in a prestigious journal of organizational behavior15 , abstracted and summarized statistically the results of 22 published and 5 unpublished studies comparing face-to-face communication groups versus computer mediated groups (those using email, teleconferencing, videoconferencing) in terms of their decision making effectiveness, time to make decisions, and member satisfaction. Their results showed that “..the overall impact of computer-mediated communication indicates that its use is associated with more negative work outcomes than occur in face-to-face groups” (Baltes, et al., p. 167)16 .”

From a psychological perspective there are a number of positive features about face¬to-face meetings that cannot always be achieved as well via other forms of communication:
• Face-to-face meetings allow members to engage in and observe verbal and non¬verbal behavioral styles not captured in most computer mediated communication devises.
• Another feature is simply the fact that face-to-face business meetings provide human contact among members. Human contact is a primitive need among human beings. We are social creatures and isolation is harmful. A recent article in the New Yorker magazine8 discussed the impact of social isolation and concluded that “simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people” (p. 36)
• Face-to-face business meetings afford participants opportunities to develop transparency and trust among each other in ways that are not always possible compared to other forms of communications. Trust is an integral part of business relationships and building trust is clearly a function of having repeated personal interactions with one another9. This is not to say that trust cannot be built using computer based technologies, but the research evidence suggests that it takes longer to be built.

From a Deloitte 2009 shift index report, the physical and virtual worlds are intertwined as travel volume continues to grow as virtual connectivity continues to expand, indicating that they are not substitutes but complements to each other.

Sources

• Why Face-to-Face Business Meetings Matter, Professor Richard D. Arvey, 2009
• Strauss, S.G., & McGrath, J. E. (1994). Does the medium matter? The interaction of task type and technology on group performance and member reactions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 87-97.
• Baltes, B.B, Dickson, M. W., Sherman, M. P., Bauer, C. C., & LaGanke, J.S., (2002), Computer-mediated communication and group decision making: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 87, 156-179.
• Measuring the forces of long-term changes, the 2009 shift index, Deloitte