If everything is now virtual why am I still travelling?
Changes in business attitudes and the enablement of technology have allowed many companies to select project teams from across various global locations and have them communicate virtually - by phone, email and videoconference - thereby saving both time and money. Yet, in my experience and even here at Speexx quite a few people still prefer face-to-face communication to virtual communication as a way to improve relationships.
I am normally based out of our HQ in Munich and today I write this post from China where I am meeting with our colleagues, clients and partners to work on new projects for 2014. Having clocked just over 30,000 miles in just a few weeks, it is obvious to me that despite all those great virtual means of communication, face-to-face contact is still crucial in business. This is particularly the case in Asia and the Middle East where trust is built on eye contact and socialising over a meal is still an important part of business. Yet, this is not far removed for Americans and Europeans sharing a glass of beer or taking in a few rounds of golf.
The distinction of soft and hard skills is blurring
By definition, interpersonal skills or soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual's interactions, job performance and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person's measurable skill set and ability to perform a certain type of activity, soft skills relate to a person's ability to interact effectively with co-workers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace. In the case of the business world, language skills and the ability to communicate are showing to have a direct impact on the business performance.
And of course, in aging Western economies, the integration of multilingual and multicultural workers is crucial to sustain and grow business. Companies need to adhere to staff language learning needs resourcefully, in order to reach out to new target markets and to build lasting, strategic global relationships. Studies have shown that soft skills in communications will have an impact on organisational performance and business profitability - so it's simply not a 'nice to have' option any more.
Face-to-face still matters
Business continues to be built on personal relationships and trust and this requires the right communication skills. According to the Towards Maturity 2012-13 Benchmark Survey, 43 percent of organisations are e-enabling foreign language training, a staggering 350 percent more than two years before. This finding points towards a worldwide need for strong business communication skills across borders. Modern technology allows us to train our foreign language and communication skills up to a high level anytime and anywhere. Training takes place in a virtual classroom or telephone session with a professional native speaker who prepares us for real-life business situations with on-going support and feedback. This way, we become fully equipped with the soft skills required in a face-to-face conversation. And in my case, making the most out of business meetings for which we fly 10,000 miles across the globe - almost every month. After all, the benefits of meeting somebody in person cannot be argued with. Combined with the ability to convey information clearly, accurately and confidently, these meetings become a win-win situation.
This is why I believe that every technology enhanced communication empowerment initiative must be aligned to the practical needs of both the business and the user. Ultimately, only the right communicative abilities help us to build strong relationships with our partners in business and to ensure long-lasting business ties as well as growth and profitability.