Intranets do not replace face-to-face communications

by Toby Ward — According to a Harvard Business Review study of Project Management Best Practices in Global 500 Enterprises face-to-face meetings and interaction in the work place is declining rapidly – and instead many teams are working virtually.
Among the results from the study:
  • fewer than 4% of teams ever meet physically as a whole
  • fewer than 17% even have individual team members meet in person
  • more than 66% of teams include members from at least three time zones
  • 57% are cross-functional
  • 48% extend beyond company walls to include outside contractors, agencies, counsel, outsourcers and other third parties
“The implications of this study are clear: the notion of collaboration as something that happens around a conference room table is quaint and outdated,” says Chris Cummings in his article Why Document Management and Portal Implementations Fall Short ...  “While the physical project space has become a thing of the past, the need for a unifying collaborative environment remains no less critical. This role must now be played by software: to provide a virtual project space that can serve as the primary platform for work team productivity.”
This of course is garbage. The physical space has not become “a thing of the past” and “the role” must NOT be played by software. We are all people and the intranet and all of its supporting software and interconnected applications are supporting and enabling technology – not replacements.
Technology and supporting software are important to effective communications. In fact, they’re critical components. But they will NEVER replace face-to-face communications.
Many studies support the notion that communications has less to do with what you actually say than how you say it (including tone of voice and non-verbal expression and gestures). We hear this all the time during an election campaign and the post-analysis of candidate debates. This is just as true with employee communications.
Here’s a test: ask different workers about the quality of their relationship with their boss and the quality of the direction and guidance they receive from their manager. Now ask them how much time they spend face-to-face with their boss. I guarantee you will see the corollary. Generally speaking those employees with higher job satisfaction have a better relationship with their immediate manager than those that don’t have a satisfactory (or less than satisfactory) relationship with their manager. Without a prior one-on-one relationship it is very hard to have a good relationship with someone without face-to-face time.
“Despite the rise of emails and intranets, employers still value face-to-face sessions the most when it comes to keeping staff up-to-date, according to a British survey,” states a report from Management-Issues (see You can't beat face-to-face communication). “The study by specialist journal IRS Employment Review found that, while organisations do now use an extensive range of communication methods, including online systems, handbooks, newsletters and memos, team briefings, executive briefing sessions and road shows tended to work best.”
And effective communications is critical to any organization. It’s not just about staffing, project management and supporting technology.
The Watson Wyatt 2005/2006 Communication ROI Study 2005/2006 study found evidence that communication effectiveness is a leading indicator of financial performance.  Among the findings:
  • Companies that communicate effectively have a 19.4 percent higher market premium than companies that do not.
  • Shareholder returns for organizations with the most effective communication were over 57 percent higher over the last five years (2000-2004) than were returns for firms with less effective communication.
  • Firms that communicate effectively are 4.5 times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement versus firms that communicate less effectively.
Don’t think for a second that because you have a great intranet and other supporting technologies that face-to-face communications don’t matter – or matter less. If anything, a great intranet can distract management and communicators from the need and importance of face-to-face communications.

Toby Ward is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital Media with 15 years of progressive professional experience & business consulting expertise. Contact us directly for more information on how to transform your intranet into a high-value employee & business system