In today's work environments, we should be adept at receiving, understanding and acting on communications via different channels, right? (Different channels being emails, face-to-face, telephone conversations and voice mail and so on.) I remember seeing guidance for older workers telling them not to be surprised to receive communications via text message from their younger boss. We are really evolving away from the need for constant face-to-face contact, aren't we?
To get a little more clarity on this, a team of researchers conducted a study of digital communications between supervisors and employees. The researchers were looking to see if "more digitally centered communication satisfies employee's needs regarding the communication with their supervisors and influences attitudes toward the supervisor and the job." That's a good objective because as project managers, we want to ensure that our communication is effective and that it helps (and motivates) project teams and workers to complete their tasks as expected.
In the study, the research team has employees evaluate communication quantity and quality, and even report on ideal use of communication channels. They measured three things:
- Employees’ job satisfaction
- Employees’ perceptions of their supervisors’ effectiveness
- Employees’ team identification
Here's a summary of what they found:
- Employees prefer face-to-face communication over email and telephone.
- Employees studied desired more face-to-face communication with their supervisors than they actually received.
- The more face-to-face communication that occurred between supervisors and employees, the more the employees had higher job satisfaction and team identification. The employees were also more likely to see their supervisor as more effective. There was a strong correlation in all three areas.
So project managers who are also supervisors of workers, take note. There appears to be good evidence for you to prioritize face-to-face contact. Could be good for your career.
Let me suggest that these results are also instructive for project managers who are not direct supervisors. A future study may find that there is not as strong a correlation for "dotted line" project manager communications, but I would wager that project managers who prioritize face-to-face communications over email and telephone are seen as more effective and have project teams with higher job satisfaction and team identification.
It is up to you to find appropriate times to switch to face-to-face communications. Consider the following:
- Routine meetings that typically use conference line - change all or significant occurrences to face-to-face meetings
- Weekly phone meetings with key teams or individuals - find a conference room or use video conference
- Long, detailed emails typically sent out to distribution lists - evaluate whether topic is important or complex enough to warrant an initial face-to-face session to focus attention of busy participants
- Take special precautions to involve those who, for logistics reasons, cannot attend face-to-face meetings with the rest of team. The more important face-to-face meetings are, the more disadvantaged are those who cannot participate.
Perhaps those who are trying to use digital communications to become more efficient are not seeing the drawbacks. You can take a more wise course knowing the results of this study. The toughest part may be justifying the expense of face-to-face meetings and video conferences. What do you think?