The 2020 pandemic has led to a wave of digital transformation across the globe. According to McKinsey “COVID-19 have speeded the adoption of digital technologies by several years—and many of these changes could be here for the long haul.” The global technology adoption rate was accelerated 3 years faster than expected, to be precise.
The unprecedented explosion of video calls was an integral part of this massive transformation. According to TrustRadius the search impressions for video conferencing software increased by 500% in 2020 alone.
So video calls increased dramatically, as circumstances deemed it to be necessary. The question that remains is could video calls be a worthy substitute for face-to-face meetings?
Just a few years back, there was a strong case on the importance and irreplaceability of face-to-face meetings. In 2015, a Forbes article made compelling statements on how face-to-face meetings could better impact relationships. The article even argued that online meetings must only take place when absolutely necessary – When work was “too dependent on long-distance, digital and impersonal meetings”.
Nonetheless, it’s quite interesting to see how we rethought or even rediscovered the importance of virtual meetings a few years later. A survey by Boston Consulting Group reported that during the first wave of the pandemic, 75% of the participants either maintained or increased their productivity due to the efficiency and convenience of virtual meetings.
Does this efficiency compensate for other vital parts of communication, such as body language?
Body language matters greatly. A 2016 research paper by Dunlap and Murtagh points out that “behaviors—such as facial expressions, the placement of head and shoulders, the use of hands—can deliver information, regulate the interaction, and express feelings and intimacy”. This is in line with Dr. Mehrabian’s research in the 1960s, which described that 55% of our communication is visual.
This is where things get interesting. Although video calls may not allow for the entirety of body communication to be transmitted virtually, especially when the camera is off, or when the communicators can only see each other’s faces, it appears that certain digital elements can fill the void. According to the research of Derks, Bos, and Grumbkow (2007), digital constructs such as emoticons can act as nonverbal surrogates to imitate body language and convey emotions.
The replacement of physical body language, as we know it, doesn’t end here though. As we progress into a digital reality and the metaverse, the use of video calls may even become outdated by a new element. Avatars. Digital versions of ourselves.
According to a recent survey by Covve, 42% of the participants claimed that eye contact will be possible through their avatars. 46% of the participants even support that they will be able to simulate communication elements like body language, through their avatars in the metaverse.
Undoubtedly, remote communication is gaining popularity and not without a reason. In most cases, it can increase our productivity and efficiency. What remains to be seen, is whether it can fully replace the merits of face-to-face meetings. Until a few years ago this was doubtful, but as technology is evolving, things are changing drastically. Of course, it all depends on the occasion and the rapport you are developing. Sometimes you need to call instead of texting, video call instead of calling, and meet instead of video calling.