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Personally Impersonal

Why companies are bringing people together the old-fashioned way

United Way Campaign Kick Off Event.

In a time where everything is so digital and impersonal, why should companies bother investing time and money in events? With all the technological advances in our world, many of us already experience the benefits of Skype meetings, virtual multi-person conference calls and job interviews, online group chats and even online dating – the list goes on and on. So why host events when we can communicate and “meet” from the comfort of our work desks, or even from our homes? Living in a practically virtual world, it raises a good question: should companies continue to invest time and money in bringing people together the old-fashioned way – face-to-face?

Dr. Megan McElheran, a clinical psychologist with WGM Psychological Services Ltd., certainly thinks so. From a psychological perspective, McElheran says, “Human beings are social animals and our connections and attachments to one another are essential for our sense of well-being and health across a number of domains, and we have the research to support this.”

She goes on to say that much of communication is non-verbal, and when we turn to digital mediums to communicate with one another, much of what we are trying to say gets lost in translation; whereas face-to-face interaction allows people to gauge how another person is feeling and/or doing. McElheran believes seeing and feeling the impact of our communication on others helps to guide, shape and correct our behaviours, which in turn, helps us to feel a greater sense of competence and efficacy.

Companies that host events, in turn, allow employees “to perceive themselves as competent relative to those with whom they do business, and social events, and the interactions that happen therein, are one way to accomplish this,” states McElheran.

Christina (Tina) Chow of Raymond James Ltd. couldn’t agree more and believes “face-to-face events to raise awareness and give back to our communities in which we live and work are necessary.” Many of the events her company organizes or sponsors help support local charities such as Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Calgary Food Bank, Believe in the Gold, and St. Mary’s Feed the Hungry, just to name a few.

Chow, a financial adviser with Raymond James, is also a member of the Raymond James Canada Foundation Advisory Committee whose role is to help facilitate philanthropic efforts and events across the firm. In addition to their charitable efforts, Raymond James also hosts a National Business Conference each year and is the company’s largest program with over 500 delegates attending, says Chow proudly. Advisers attend a three-day conference which focuses on business development but also provides social opportunities to network with peers, something that would not be possible without bringing their people together in one room.

Even companies that rely heavily on digital marketing and technology to help boost sales still see great value in personal face-to-face interaction. Just ask media and marketing-savvy local Realtor, Dennis Plintz, senior VP of sales with Sotheby’s International Realty. Plintz’s team, consisting of six full-time employees and up to 10 part-time contractors, meets at least once a week in person to “check-in” but also touch base with each other on items not directly related to the business. Weekly meetings begin with each person using a “one-word check-in” or a “good news story.” This, according to Plintz, allows him to assess where each individual is at personally and/or professionally.

“Asking questions is one thing, but seeing a person’s body language in response to a question is everything,” says Plintz.

Echoing what McElheran previously stated, he believes person-to-person interaction allows him to gauge where his team is at and if there are issues that need to be addressed. As one of the top performing realty teams in Calgary, Plintz is adamant that “encouraging human interaction and socialization in a day and age where it has become less and less is critical for high-performance teams to continue to grow.” In addition to what is done internally, Plintz and his team hosts one to two client events per year with a dual purpose: to celebrate with their clients while supporting a local charitable cause.

But events cost money, sometimes a lot of money, and given the current economic downturn, many people would assume most companies have scaled back or even cancelled events altogether. While some have chosen this route, it seems the economy hasn’t lessened people’s desire to help and give back.

Karen Young, president and CEO of United Way Calgary and Area, says her organization hosts two major annual corporate partnership events in Calgary: their Campaign Kick-Off in September and the Spirits of Gold in February. While the kick-off, which includes a parade and special events at Olympic Plaza, helps to raise awareness on social issues and formally notify the public that this year’s campaign has begun, the Spirits of Gold event recognizes the workplaces, individuals and agencies that participate in their annual fundraising campaign.

Young approximates that 2,000 people attend the Campaign Kick-Off and another 600-800 attend the Spirits of Gold, including most of the United Way employees. Young says it is important to note that no donor dollars are used to host any of United Way’s annual events; the Campaign Kick-Off is sponsored and the Spirits of Gold is funded through ticket sales and sponsorships.

United Way’s mission is “to improve lives and build extraordinary communities by engaging individuals and mobilizing collective action,” and as such, staff meetings take place monthly so that employees can share their stories and discuss the impact their organization has on Calgarians.

“The result is pride in the work undertaken – we are energized by one another’s success which translates into helping others succeed,” boasts Young. All of United Way’s success and support would not be possible without the face-to-face interaction provided to their employees, the general public and the agencies with whom they work.

Even with the conveniences of today’s technology and social media platforms, it seems nothing can truly replace the benefits and effects of a personal touch and face-to-face interactions – and these include numerous health benefits too.

Most of us are so attached to and reliant on our phones, devices and the plethora of apps that come with them that we don’t realize the negative consequences it has on our well-being. There is, according to McElheran, a cost to interpersonal effectiveness if this is the only medium people are using. Online or digital networks can contribute to a sense of community, but cannot, without a doubt, be compared to the benefits of in-person or one-on-one interaction.

“Chemical reactions occur in the brain and body when we feel a strong connection has been forged with another in an interpersonal interaction; and these reactions support robust health-related improvements such as immune function, for example.

“So while online and digital communication should and will continue, and are important to support the various ways in which business is done, they are not substitutes for getting together in real time, and in person,” assures McElheran. So go ahead and put your phone down, stop staring at your computer, schedule in-person meetings with your colleagues and interact with real live people – your mental and physical health will thank you later.