As a consultant who helps organisations with the effectiveness of their business relationships, I am frequently asked what’s trending in my chosen space. I welcome the question. It is gratifying that enlightened leaders these days recognise the importance of fully functioning relationships as contributors to commercial success.

In response, I have been struck in recent months by how many of my one on one interviews, in probing where relationships could improve or return to former glory, have zoomed in on a desire for more face-to-face time. This issue has emerged in the sessions with both client and agency personnel.

We live in testing times. Traditional businesses are facing disruption from digital versions of themselves. And the digital pioneers are under attack from even more agile, sexier mini-mes. Political and economic uncertainty are not helping either. As a result, re-structuring, staffing cuts, fluid roles and responsibilities, resource stretch, cost constraints and schedule tyranny are ever-present considerations in the planning and implementation of marketing programmes.

All these factors gobble up time that was previously permitted for personal interaction, especially with external associates but often with colleagues in the same building.

We have also become apostles for an ever-expanding array of web-enabled toys and tools of which video calling apps like FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Viber have been seductive trailblazers.

To be clear, innovation has transformed the world of work. There are situations, particularly in large, multisite, international enterprises where a global sense of community has been made possible by the internet, where formerly loose connections have become significantly easier to maintain and nurture. In these kinds of complex environments, face-to-face communication can be an unrealistic expectation in all but exceptional circumstances.

However, my conversations this year do suggest that we all need to recognise when we are about to go overdrawn on the business relationship account, regardless of work pressures and the temptations offered by technology. Here are my five reasons why:

  • True relationship building. The sand and cement are rapport and trust. This foundation, the basis for a bond that typically extends beyond the professional and into the personal domain, is created by being together, in person. It is extremely difficult to establish a meaningful liaison remotely. And, as the Dutch saying goes, ‘trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback’ (in my experience, the horse is often provided by lack of face-to-face contact)
  • Body language. Experts suggest that over 90% of human communication consists of body language and paralinguistic cues, leaving a small minority to be expressed through words alone. Self-evidently, texting or talking on the phone negates this powerful mode of facial, postural and gestural expression; it is rare, also, for video conferencing to give a full picture of the person in front of the camera
  • Effectiveness. I can appear to be an expert in Mesopotamian art in an email I send. Equally, I can get entirely the wrong end of the stick from one I receive. Neither outcome represents the reality. The possibility for misinformation and misunderstanding is hugely reduced by meeting in person. Conversely, the potential for problem-solving is dramatically enhanced. It can be a false economy to slash the travel budget in favour of the back and forth of draining, unclear, impersonal exchanges
  • Opportunity. In addition to the points already made, there is evidence that face-to-face meetings are best for engagement, leadership and persuasion. Of course, these drivers improve the efficacy of the day-to-day activity. Critically, however, the understanding that accompanies a deep-rooted relationship affords access to the parties’ aspirations and to the possibility for fashioning a shared endeavour. You will not co-own the future of someone you do not see in the flesh. More broadly, the positive impact of collaborative team-centred activity upon motivation and idea generation is sufficiently ingrained not to require further explanation here
  • Well-being. It is relatively common for my sessions to be described as therapeutic. I accept the observation graciously, in the spirit with which it is intended, but I do wonder if, in part, this reflects the fact that, in business today, there are fewer off-piste conversations, with less reflective sharing and a paucity of time deliberately not devoted to galloping through impossibly ambitious agendas. To this point, biologists and psychologists have shown that personal contact delivers physical and mental health benefits (way beyond the buzz from tapping LOL on a keyboard!)

There is, therefore, some obvious and some more subtle payback from face-to-face communication but, for me, the killer point comes down the business currency of our time, value. I always ask my interviewees whether they feel valued by their relevant agency or client counterparts. It’s a fat question. This is often the point when the concern about lack of personal contact is raised.

Making the effort to see people, especially when the going gets tough, shows that you value them, that they are worth the time, effort and money, that their opinions are important enough to be heard in person, that the resulting discussion deserves your full attention. And being valued is a fundamental human need from a successful relationship.

In short, there are certainly times when FaceTime will be enough but for the best relationship experiences you need real face time.