Let me, as a learning specialist, make a few things clear in advance:

  • No, I am not against new developments.
  • No, I am not stuck in my own existing way of working.
  • No, I am not a digital illiterate or against webcam use or anything related to online.
  • Yes, I believe that working remotely and working from home have finally caught on for the masses, and rightly so.
  • Yes, I also think that we are all stuck in meetings far too often (and far too long).
  • etc.

However, I am convinced that we greatly underestimate the power and necessity of direct, face-to-face human contact.

My work normally consists of coaching and delivering (group) trainings. That has come to a complete standstill since March 13. Like many other freelancers and entrepreneurs, this has a huge financial but also social impact. All around me I hear and read a lot of positive messages about all kinds of successful initiatives that should replace face-to-face training. Nonsense! There is simply nothing like direct human contact. The impact of an online session can’t compete with a real, ‘live’ interaction in which participants go through a learning process together.

Don’t you believe me? Then take a look around you.

Today you can order almost everything online and have it delivered to your home. Does that mean the end of all physical stores? No. People still feel the need to go out and shop, preferably together. Our government advises us not to go ‘fun shopping’, but that is part of us as humans. We want to get out, see other people and feel part of society. The fact that physical stores have been under pressure for much longer has nothing to do with the fact that online is so much easier or cheaper. That is because too many stores do not provide the service and experience that today’s critical consumer expects. But that’s another discussion, maybe a topic for another blog.

Is human contact really that important? Hell yes! It is one of our most primitive basic needs that we simply cannot ignore. A bizarre and lurid experiment by the Austrian psychoanalyst René Spitz in the 1940’s showed that human contact and affection are of vital importance to humans. Spitz wanted to investigate whether people can survive without affection. 

Spitz conducted a study on 40 newborn babies. 20 babies received the basic care of feeding, changing and washing, but nothing more. The caregivers were not to look at the babies, touch them more than necessary, and were not allowed to communicate with them. The other 20 babies also received basic care, but were also “normally” cared for, with attention, affection and real contact.

The experiment was stopped after four months. By then at least half of the babies not receiving the basic human affection had died! Although all babies were physically in good health, unfortunately this was not enough. The other 20 babies who received normal care all survived. The conclusion was that affection is vital for humans.

“Corona crisis is not a lurid experiment…”

This Corona crisis is not a lurid experiment, but the effect on us as a social person can be seen everywhere. It is no coincidence that the number of deaths in nursing homes almost doubled during this crisis. According to Paul van Lange, professor of psychology, chronic loneliness is just as harmful to you as 15 cigarettes a day!

Not being able to see and speak to each other in person is not a luxury; it is a necessity. In prisons, inmates used to be placed in an isolation cell to minimize any contact with others. This was considered the most extreme form of punishment. Fortunately, many countries are reviewing this measure. Why? It is believed that contact with fellow human beings is a fundamental human right and that any form of isolation should only be used as a last resort if there are no other options left.

A new reality

Social distancing, the 1.5-meter society, intelligent lockdown etc. These are concepts that we will have to get used to. We as trainers and coaches will also have to learn to deal with this. But, when it comes to learning and developing, I continue to believe in the efficiency and effect of group learning. Indeed, face-to-face and not via Zoom, Teams or any online applications. These are excellent supportive tools. After all, I now also coach virtually. However, often these are existing participants from previous training sessions. Which means there has already been a previous live contact moment and we already have a certain connection and level of trust with each other.

Making real contact with participants

Now you might think “Virtual coaching and training is just as effective, after all you can see and hear each other.” If you know that more than 90% of all communication consists of body language and intonation, you understand that following a full training via an online session can never have the same effect and return as ‘classroom’ training. When I stand in front of the group, I really make contact with my participants. In other words. there are very subtle emotions and vibes in the room that I pick up on that allow me to elevate the level of engagement. Those things are lost when using digital tools. Sure, I can give them the theory through an e-learning module, but real learning only comes when I show people what they can do with that theory.

Furthermore, the group also learns from each other and experiences every training day as a true learning moment. The interactive elements, assignments, discussions and role plays from my training are often the highlights of the training that you can only imitate digitally to a very limited extent. The locations where I give the training understand all too well that a training is an experience. That is why they provide a pleasant and inspiring space, plenty of daylight and space for the participants, with good food and drinks to spoil the inner person as well as the mind. Content, group dynamics and experience together ensure an optimal learning environment.

Challenging times

In conclusion, yes, we have to keep up with the times. And yes, we can go to the office much less often. Yes, that meeting could also have replaced a clear and well-written email. And yes, theoretical learning can also be done digitally. But if you really want to let employees grow and develop, group training and face-to-face contact are still the most effective. So, I wish everyone a lot of strength in these challenging times, it really is not easy. But I am convinced that we will make it together. In the meantime, I am looking forward to the first moment that I can provide a training again, with an energetic group of eager participants who will experience an inspiring training with each other, but always at ‘appropriate distance’!

Stay safe.

Stay smart.

Stay positive.

(oh, and Stay SUCCESsful)

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