Face To Face

What do not going out to office lunches and open-plan offices have in common?

Oddly enough, they both stifle face-to-face communication. That’s right, both passing on the opportunity to spend time with others and being forced to spend time with others have the same effect.  You fail to communicate in a meaningful way and you lose out on the value of those interactions

According to Jason Gay in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Real Lunches? Only if Someone Makes Us Do It, “Lunch is seen as a time-suck: frivolous, unnecessary, old-fashioned.”

Spending some out-of-the-office time getting to know someone used to be considered an integral tool for building and strengthening relationships. Now it’s dismissed as a waste of time.

Libby Sander, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Bond Business School, Bond University, has found that “employees in open plan offices spend 73% less time in fact-to-face interactions.” In addition to this, high density and low privacy leads to increased distraction and less ability to concentrate.

And in research by Ethan S Bernstein and Stephen Turban reported by Royal Society Publishing, “open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw.”

It seems the good intentions of wall-destroying leaders to encourage interactions and a free flow of thoughts and ideas have had the opposite effect.

So many people without lunches and walls are now engaging in fewer face-to-face interactions during their working hours. The result? Missed opportunities to build relationships, share ideas, and expand opportunities for success.

As readers of this missive know, I’m a big proponent of face-to-face meetings anytime you can arrange them. Many of my most useful ideas are born, pondered, and planned when I am at lunch, across from someone engaged in intense discussion. Sitting with total focus on listening carefully, observing their body language, and fully participating in energizing conversation. It’s the kind of interaction and connection that simply can’t be replaced by electronic means, be it phone calls, emails, texts, or even video calls.

Frivolous? Unnecessary? Old-Fashioned? My experience is the contrary: stimulating, useful, and vital.

Fight back against the forces denigrating business lunches and forcing you into open-plan social withdrawal. Invite a colleague or employee to lunch. Focus on them and the conversation you’re having. Share your ideas and encourage them to reciprocate.

When you go back to work, notice how energized you feel, notice how that idea your lunch companion mentioned is leading to new thoughts. And if you’re going back to an open-floor plan…or even an office with walls…before resuming your seat wander a bit and chat with some co-workers you’ve never really talked to.

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