Communication without personal contact as a new role model?

By Karl-Wilhelm Krane

As many other companies in these times, we've been part of the probably largest experiment of new ways of working in modern times. Like so many of my clients and candidates, I've been working mainly in my home office since March and conducted all communication virtually - by phone or via Skype, MS Teams or FaceTime. But how do many managers feel, who lead branch offices and employees only via video calls? And how do the employees feel and work, who only experience their manager virtually?

Two things in particular stand out: the technology has been taken out of its niche in numerous companies in a very short time and works surprisingly well. At Mercuri Urval, we've been using video interviews with candidates for years to get a first impression. However, none of us would have thought of foregoing personal interviews and carrying out a recruitment, assessment or coaching process purely virtually. And that's just the other thing that stands out: during the lockdown period, we all used the new tools more intensively than ever before, but we also get to know the value of the personal interview anew. Digitisation is and remains a megatrend that is constantly capturing new areas of business and life. And although we serve our customers in many different ways, and in these past months showed that we can serve all our customers 100 per cent digitally, some communication is best in person.

A basic principle of Mercuri Urval is “Personality is constant!” And to be able to judge personality properly, personal contact is essential. I would like to illustrate this with a personal example. Some time ago I took over a potential client from a colleague who was changing jobs. I made an appointment with him and we talked in his study. On the wall was a well-known black and white photo of “Route 66” in the US. Following from this, I learned something about his travel dreams and was able to establish a personal relationship that would not have been possible with a mere phone or even video call, if the photograph would have been kept out of sight. From my many years of experience, I have become convinced that people open up more in a face-to-face conversation and that I thereby learn more about them and their personality.

Leadership is still face to face

The example shows: Personal contacts are important to get a complete picture of a person or a situation. A phone call is better than an e-mail, a video call is better than a phone call – and the personal meeting is better than a video call. The Corona crisis once again shows how important communication skills and their correct application are. You should take this into account when developing and recruiting managers and employees.

  • Collecting and evaluating experiences during the crisis
    Discussions with managers can be used to find out what worked well during the crisis and can also be used in the period after the crisis to reduce travel costs and time spent, without jeopardising important contacts with customers and suppliers. The new technical possibilities cannot and should not completely replace personal discussions in the future, but they can be brought into the right balance. Time is also a scarce commodity on all sides and should not be used more than necessary.
  • Improve communicative skills in a targeted manner
    The more possibilities communication technology offers, the more important it is to use it according to the situation. This is not only a matter of choosing the right means, but also of the quality of the conversations. The communicative skills can not only be professionally assessed, but also improved in a targeted manner. Within the framework of our training and coaching for managers, we also address how communication skills can help less strong managers to become better communicators.
  • External Recruitment
    When recruiting new managers and employees, the focus should continue to be on communication skills. This applies to both verbal and non-verbal communication. Particularly when someone is responsible for several locations and teams, personal contact, presence and “visibility” are of great importance to the employees. Applicants with experience in digital communication and leadership can provide valuable impulses, even if they come from a different industry.

A question of the right up- and downgrading

In the Corona crisis we acquired “new knowledge” about the possibilities that today are inherent in video conversations and in the joint, virtual processing of documents. Both instruments close the previous large gap between telephone calls and personal conversations. Our “keyboard of possibilities” has been given additional keys that should be included in your game. But which tones and chords are the right ones is different in every situation and in every company. Everybody should know the zones within the company, which have to be looked after more intensively. On site you can see more and get a feeling of the situation, you have random conversations in the corridor and you can sense moods and collect images.

At Mercuri Urval, we gather a lot of interesting experiences every day from companies of all sizes and in all industries around the world. Experience in leadership and communication, which we're happy to share with you in our “Way Ahead” series of articles by Richard Moore, CEO and Partner at Mercuri Urval. Because finding the right balance in personal and virtual communication offers enormous business potential in any company.

If you would like to know more about this topic or would like to make personal contact, please contact Karl-Wilhelm Krane:

Karl-Wilhelm Krane  |  Senior Consultant
Mobil: +49 172 76 35 654  |  Office: +49 40 85 17 16 22