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Does it matter that phones and emails are taking over from old-fashioned face time?

Employees are now so used to communicating with people by email or phone that they are losing confidence with face-to-face interaction, according to a recent survey.

More than half of employees (52 per cent) said they felt less confident about communicating with people face-to-face than they do using impersonal means. Even if colleagues are a short stroll away in the same building, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) said that they'd resort to phone or email rather than have a chat in person.

The favoured means of getting in touch was email, its main advantage being that it's a convenient way to keep a record of conversations. Issues discussed by email can be searched for easily, too. People said they preferred to use email to contact someone for the first time, but if a matter was urgent then they would use the phone.

Respondents also said that impersonal communication allowed them evade difficult questions or extra work duties more easily than if they were confronted directly.

The convenience of impersonal communication has to be weighed against the disadvantages. Nuances of tone and body language are lost in phone conversations and particularly emails and texts, making misunderstandings more likely. Something written ironically in an email or text can be taken at face value, causing confusion or even offence. There's no question that working relationships backed up by regular face-to-face contact are usually stronger and longer lasting. Almost everyone surveyed (97 per cent) admitted it was important to 'put a face to an email address' to nurture good business relations.

Few people these days can do without the speed and versatility of modern telecommunications technology. But managers would do well to remember that all types of communication should be cultivated; ensuring that old-fashioned personal contact doesn't completely wither on the vine will only improve interpersonal skills. Face-to-face conversation can boost friendships, morale and engagement in the workplace and foster better relationships with colleagues, clients and associates.

Organisations can get advice and guidance from Acas on a range of issues surrounding new technology and Social media in the workplace. Acas advisers can help them developing their own social media policies. Acas has also published the Employee communications and consultation, which explores how to develop robust arrangements for effective communication.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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