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By Rob Zack, Chief Executive Officer
Reading Time: 6 minutes

I bet you never thought you’d read a blog about neuroscience from a tech CEO. And truth be told, I never thought I’d be writing one. But alas, here we are.

The Power of Face-to-Face Connections

Why neuroscience? For me, our recent CONNECT annual kickoff event underscored the true power and importance of face time and brain connections… and I don’t mean the Apple app, FaceTime. I mean actual humans in the same room, connecting and creating. And that led me to ask, why? Why did this in-person event elicit so many invaluable conversations and new levels of collaboration?

By now, you may think this is a setup for my push to get people back to the office. If so, I’m (mostly) happy to say it’s not.

The truth is, we are very committed to – and fully embracing – our remote work policy. We understand the kind of balance and flexibility this shift has brought to so many of our associates, and we work hard to take great care of our people. In turn, they appreciate how much we value them. Thus, they commit to giving 110% no matter where they work while leveraging their talent and expertise, which helps fuel our growth and success.

I think this symbiotic, mutually appreciative relationship, where each side values the other side equally, is not only a testament to why we’ve made the “Best Places to Work” list year after year, but it’s increasingly rare. My sincere belief is that with this kind of ‘people-first’ culture, success is almost a “given.”

Neuroscience Insights

Okay, that was my CEO diatribe. Now, back to my neuroscience investigations.

A recent study led by an international research consortium out of the University of Montreal aimed to uncover whether interactions facilitated by technology could impact neurological processes, potentially hindering the growth of social and cognitive skills.

The study compared brain electrical patterns during direct, in-person interactions versus interactions mediated by remote technology among 62 mother-child pairs with children in the 10 to 14 age range. While the study assessed the mother-child connection differences, the survey’s research team believed the results also applied to adult-to-adult interactions. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I would have to agree based on many years of witnessing teams and knowing brain synchronization doesn’t suddenly ‘turn off’ after a certain age.

The Science Behind Real Connections

Spoiler: the study found that face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-brain links between frontal and temporal areas of the brain, whereas remote communications elicited only one.

The study found that face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-brain links between frontal and temporal areas of the brain, whereas remote communications elicited only one.

In layman’s terms, you ‘sync up’ much more intricately when physically (and therefore, neurologically) together.

As it would happen, the research demonstrated that human brains tend to synchronize when engaged in spontaneous social interaction. That means their electrical rhythms start oscillating at the same frequency, so when you feel like, ‘Hey, I’m on the same wavelength’ as someone, you truly are.

The study findings may also partially explain the widespread “Teams fatigue” following the rise in video conferencing during (and since) the COVID lockdowns. Such online interactions produce less brain-to-brain synchrony, making people often feel like online interactions seem less connected and natural despite us all ‘seeing’ each other through our individual screens.

The researchers believe the study confirms that social relationships are critically important to humans and that inter-brain mechanisms are linked to the development of the social and cognitive brain throughout a person’s lifetime.

The Human Connection

So, what’s my point then? We are designed to be social beings.

We thrive when connecting face-to-face with other humans. Teamwork, partnership, collaboration, and innovation take root and grow when you build those kinds of bonds with coworkers. It’s one reason our leadership team has a tradition of meeting every employee face-to-face. Whether they come to the office or work remotely, we make the time to connect, one way or another, with some kind of consistency.

And it’s precisely why we named our annual kickoff event CONNECT.

From my view, it’s more than a buzzword or catchy event theme. It underscores the importance of a people-first culture. At this year’s event, we saw firsthand how invaluable face-to-face connections genuinely are. So, this is the perfect spot to share some CONNECT feedback from our associates…

Lindsey A., Account Executive: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my gratitude for CONNECT. I truly appreciated the opportunity to hear from the clients, and the insights and perspectives they shared were not only amazing but also incredibly valuable. It added another layer of richness and authenticity to the event, making it even more memorable. I loved meeting everyone in person and getting to connect with them 1×1. The energy was truly unmatched, and I am looking forward to Connect 2024! Amazing work!”

Feliciana H., Order Process Specialist: “It was nice to literally connect with people I work with, even daily, but don’t get to see in person because they are in another state. I thought the theme was very appropriate: CONNECT: All Together Now.”

John B., Account Executive: “CONNECT was a well-built-out event that enabled new and senior staff to gain more insight into our current and future offerings.”

Jade H., Senior Invoicing Specialist: “It was nice to see everyone and reconnect with people I work with, and meet Associates I had not met yet. The event was a great opportunity to have everyone meet face to face and get to know each other, and it opened the door to communicate more freely with everyone. I’m looking forward to the Ops team being even more involved in future CONNECT events.”

More Benefits of Putting People First

To extrapolate all of this science into tangible benefits of putting people first and more reasons why I work hard to make in-person interactions a priority, I believe CEOs and leadership teams should take particular note of these kinds of benefits derived from real face time:

1. Deeper, More Nuanced Communications
The nuances of body language, tone, and facial expressions add depth to our interactions that simply don’t translate the same way online. It’s like going from black and white to high-definition color.

2. Faster Trust Building
When we meet in person, we develop a deeper level of trust, as it’s easier to establish credibility and authenticity, especially since our brains are synchronizing. Those are crucial components to creating a high-performance team that works together and wins together.

3. Richer Collaboration
Creativity flows more freely when we’re in the same room. Have you been in a physical meeting where the brainstorming starts and one new idea leads to another and another? This style of problem-solving and innovation thrives on the energy of in-person collaboration.

4. Strengthened Relationship Bonds
Social bonds, and therefore work bonds, are strengthened when we share meals, laughs, and stories at CONNECT. Such bonds transcend the event and carry on into our subsequent interactions. I would argue they truly strengthen the online collaboration and productivity between teams as a result of such face time.

5. Increased Morale
The excitement and motivation generated at CONNECT have carried over into our daily tasks. Knowing we’re a valued part of a vibrant team and appreciated as important contributors fosters a sense of pride.

6. Reduced Misunderstandings
Clear communication reduces misunderstandings, and it’s much easier to get it right in person. People tend to feel more open to asking clarifying questions on the spot, often preventing issues that might arise in remote-only interactions down the line.

7. Increased Associate Engagement
Engaged associates are more productive and committed. Face-to-face interactions make employees feel valued, contributing to overall engagement.

It’s important to note that this isn’t about diminishing the benefits of remote work; it’s about recognizing the irreplaceable value of face-to-face interactions. Both remote work and in-person gatherings can coexist harmoniously, and we’ve seen that clearly over the past few years, and definitely at CONNECT.

At the end of the day, it’s about striking the right balance—a people-first culture that leverages technology for remote work efficiency but never loses sight of the incredible human element that connects us all.

CONNECT is where we celebrate our connection.

Let’s continue to prioritize people-first values, embrace the power of face-to-face interactions, and make our team even stronger in the coming years.

“Rob Zack is the CEO of MicroAge. Rob started his career as a CPA at a large public accounting firm. Since then, he’s had three decades of leadership experience, primarily serving as an operational chief financial officer for public and privately held technology organizations. An experienced MicroAge associate, Rob returned to the company for the third time in 2016 to drive MicroAge operations forward with his leadership, strategy, and vision.”

Rob ZackChief Executive Officer, MicroAge

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