Why In-Person Socializing Is A Mandatory To-Do Item

We are genetically oriented toward learning from others, an easy thing to forget these days. Here's why in-person socializing is so important, and efficient.

I’m a 30-year-old writer who works from home and thrives on the neat things you can do with technology. I’ve written books about smartphones and online social networks, and I’m reading things all day. But perhaps the most idea-generating part of my workweek is attending a knitting circle. I’m pretty sure at least a half-dozen other web professionals feel the same way, and you might as well.

Not a traditional knitting circle, mind you, but it’s the same kind of idea. Every week, I carve time out of a weekday morning to meet up with a semi-regular crew of guys about my age. Three are programmers, two (including me) are writers, two are entrepreneurs with hard-to-explain revenue streams, and one is a designer. We show up with links and articles we’ve found interesting, projects and ideas we’re turning over and trying out, and stories our wives are sick of hearing about. We have a Google Group, a Skype chat room, and we all use Twitter, but those morning sessions are what we’re really about.

Left to our base instincts, we'd all probably spend that scheduled time, like most of our time, in front of a screen. But by forcing ourselves to meet up and talk, even if there’s no particular label or mission statement to it, we get vital exposure to the kinds of benefits that salespeople, network-savvy executives, and other people we usually try to avoid are seeking out. I’ve picked up paying work, traded contacts, sparked story ideas, and solved tech problems at those get-togethers. And I get much-needed practice at hearing others out, arguing my beliefs, and plain old face-to-face socializing.

That’s just dandy for me. But why should you start making regular, dedicated socializing a part of your schedule, and even tell the boss (possibly yourself) that it’s worth it? Here’s why you should get a group together, or just make it a point to walk around the office.

You need a real Third Place

The Third Place is a concept of Ray Oldenburg, urban sociologist and author of The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. The First Place is your home, and the Second Place is your office. You have assigned roles and tasks at each place, and you know nearly all the people in each. The Third Place is where you meet with people you don’t know that well, or maybe at all, and you exchange ideas, learn about other people, and, as Oldenburg sees it, enrich society and yourself.

Oldenburg published his major books on the Third Place in 1999 and 2002. Since then, the Second Place has changed quite a bit for some workers, so that it blends over into their home space, and even follows them through their phones into the traditional public interaction spaces. Your challenge, then, is to find a way to block out time where you’re not at home, you’re not at a screen, and you’re not seeing your family or best friends. You’re very consciously being social just to be social, and probably arriving back at your First or Second places a good bit happier.

You need to argue your ideas more

As much fun as 10-person, 20-message email roundtables about the proper name for the new project can be, there’s a lot of context, personality, and creativity lost when you don’t argue things out in person--respectfully, but with an audience, however small, to persuade. Just ask the guy who helps design software hosting giant GitHub. In a post on product design, Kyle Neath makes the case for arguing (and designing) in person.

… It’s not personal--it’s about making our product better. If you’re not forced to rationalize your product choices, who’s to say you’re making good decisions? Arguing with your co-workers isn’t a bad thing. It’s not creating a negative work environment--it’s a tool to help you make good decisions. Being an empty cheerleader and telling everyone that their idea is great is harmful and short-sighted. Argue and make good decisions.

Neath is talking about coworkers, but he’s also an advocate for hosting as many in-person meetups for GitHub customers as possible. And arguing out your case for a good idea (or shooting down a bad one) with your social group can be a great proving ground for doing it at the office.

You’ll do better work

Isaac Kohane, a Harvard Medical School researcher, studied over 35,000 peer-reviewed papers and mapped the locations of all their authors. The best studies, those that attracted the most citations from other published papers, were done by those who worked within 30 feet of one another. Jonah Lehrer wrote in the Wall Street Journal (and at Wired) about the Kohane study, and other research showing that, despite the regular assumption that online social networks would replace in-person experiences, business travel, conference attendance, and downtown city office space rentals have gone nowhere--in fact, they’ve mostly increased.

For years now, we’ve been searching for a technological cure for the inefficiencies of offline interaction. It would be so convenient, after all, if we didn’t have to travel to conferences or commute to the office or meet up with friends. But those inefficiencies are necessary. We can’t fix them because they aren’t broken.

In other words, humans have evolved over many, many years to be very efficient at working with, arguing with, and talking over ideas and pursuits with people, face-to-face. Social networking tools and remote technology is nowhere near as efficient (yet). So grab your calendar and add "Talk to humans" to this week's task list.

[Image: Flickr user hellobo]

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27 Comments

  • Greg Peters

    Great post. This is something I have to try to convey to my clients all the time. The social media sites are all fine and good, but you just can't replace face-to-face. I especially liked the study you quoted about the higher quality of scholarly works by those who are in closer proximity to each other.

    I'm reposting to a few places. Thanks again!

  • Freda Paterson

    I agree with Kevin Purdy. I particularly enjoyed reading your comments, Brett. Does anyone know if  there is a Social Networking Group in Edinburgh which meets regularly? It would be very useful for self-employed people.

  • caliressler

    1. Socializing should never be termed 'mandatory'. Nobody is arguing that face-to-face interaction isn't valuable. The problem lies in the fact that how much face time is necessary is subjective. The second there is agreement on face-to-face being valuable, every person on earth will have a different idea of what the proper 'dose' of face-to-face interaction should be.2. I like the idea of carving out time to meet with people - but this CANNOT be mandated. It's about your own personal discipline and what you need.  Walking around the office to be social is selfish - you're interrupting people who want to get work done. But I definitely agree it's a good idea to 'plan' your social interaction so that all parties are willingly coming to the face-to-face interaction.3. "Humans have evolved over many, many years to be very efficient at working with, arguing with, and talking over ideas and pursuits with people, face-to-face. Social networking tools and remote technology is nowhere near as efficient (yet)." - Really? I argue, talk over ideas, and get work done very efficiently over IM. In fact, it's my favorite venue for arguing a point with my business partner! :) You can read more about our ideas here: http://www.gorowe.com

  • Darin Eich

    Quite simply, the best work gets done in person. A hallway conversation or meeting at a coffe shop is so valuable. It is helpful if this in person socializing can be facilitated and made a formal part of our work schedule. Many of us feel that if we are socializing we aren't working...not true. 

  • Robert Wolcott and Michael Lip

    The theme of this article is consistent with research we've been doing at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, on Innovation Communities:  Networks of innovation leaders who come together to learn from each other and build their professional network.  Some organizations have tried to do this by linking people on websites, but the kind of trust that is required to be open about what you don't know--a vital part of innovation success--seems to require true listening in face-to-face interactions at a safe space.  To read an interview about the research, please see http://www.innovationexcellenc... 

  • CHERYL D. SCOTT

    Kevin: Thank you for sharing this link.... Much needed indeed,  My point at the end of the day is: Can we form a Social Networking Group, that will make an investment in their business, by (meeting & greeting) what are you willing to do beyond the computer???? I do believe that it's better to come together and share your goals... Good/bad/ugly or otherwise, regardless of what someone has to say... At least, you were able to share and get feedback...  all rejection is not bad rejection but has a way of making one rethink or do more research into their ideas... In short, I'm looking for people who will stand up and tell the truth... be positive, pro-active, and sincerely help someone else achieve their dreams and goals to make them a reality... Remember, not one successful person in this world did so... alone or without help!!!!  Can we network and work together for a common goal... which is to survive and provide for ourselves or for our families????

  • Nathaniel Tice

    The Electronic and Digital Media of communication give us a barrier or wall to hide ourselves behind. They allow us to create a sense of comfort and security, where with a touch of a button or a flick of the wrist we could instantly disconnect from a conversation or interaction. Then blame it on the device as a way to not take responsibility.

    The Social interaction forces us to work into a comfort zone, while still having to constantly navigate turbulence. This kind of environment inspires quick responses at the same time we are deeply internalizing the information and giving feedback. We send out and receive feedback at such an alarming rate in these situations that stress is greatly mitigated or negated and we find ourselves at ease in a friendly sparring match of thoughts, ideas, and behaviors. All of these are conducisive to new idea procurement and nurturing of existing ideas.

    With these social meetings, we "enrich society & (ourselves)". It becomes a win-win situation because we are involving our society and our community, and is not solely an inter office activity of perfection.

  • Bharathi

    I totally agree withyou.What ever the automation tools we have to reach more audience on this social media sites.I feel until & unless your audience recognizes/feels a human touch.Iam not sure,if you would be able to get effective response.I can say Human touch cannot be replaced.

  • Nancy McCabe

    You are affirming what I've seen in action since introducing a business book (articles, too) discussion series in '07 originally for entrepreneurs and now for corporate clients who like tackling a best seller and  "getting much-needed practice at hearing others out, arguing my beliefs" It's easy to connect with people once you learn not only what they think but more important how they think. Off to check-out the Oldenburg book . . .

  • BrettWert

    Damn man,I guess I should have read the comment thread before my initial response.
    That being said, Kevin,yeah I get it. Apparently, I would feel a little better still, if we had seen you deliver your thoughts on this topic in person. I would definately be interested in putting faces to these names of those who have responded. That way, I would be able to read thier body language as well. Some of them(or some of you...I know everybody is egocentric enough to come back for more)sound ubsurdly pretentious,others,analytical(I'd like to see those %'s quoted),I definately would think it interesting to see physical mannerisms with the broken english of the foriegn chick,the Stephanie lady totally gets it,I guess we all have our individual "pidgeon holes" ,mine, I'm a very talented artist,totally "blue collar",my company was founded upon personal collaberation/group creativity. With all this hi-tech bs. alot of photographers don't even know what a SLR camera is or how matte,frame and design a gallery showing.I gave up for now,closed up shop. Nobody wants "foot work" anymore. I'll never be able to sell my paintings,sculptures,"one of's..." I can still do all my various expressions,just there is no word of mouth to get known. I'm stuck with comedy or spoken word at the cafe's full of pretentious pricks who can't function without thier hi-tech annonymity.

  • BrettWert

    This is so,so,sooo true! To illustrate this point with beutiful irony,I'm 44 a majority of my friends are 25-38yrs.old. I have always avoided all this tech. B.S.! Now I've found that the only way to stay in the loop with them about our church activities and such is through email,texting,or by relaying info. during carpools. Everything has become so impersonal and abreviated it's disgusting to me. Are we really so isolationistic that we text people "Happy Birthday"?!(with abreviations no less) I recieved a text....Hpy b.day 2u. ...Correct me if I'm wrong,but didn't they text this from thier phone to mine? Apparently both phones worked properly...Out of spite I played along, " F.U.PH.ME ". Two months ago,I'd never texted before.These days,I find myself,not as myself. I don't have ADHD.I rarely need any acronyms.Granted,I do use contractions,but have we really evolved into a society with TBTSD (too busy to speak disorder) If you care enough to think of me say so.At least call with the phone since it's in your hand.If you don't have time to talk,tell me "Hey.Don't have much time to talk,happy birthday gotta go bye.",or if you care but don't want to hear my voice,cards are unidirectional and hand writing is a better way of giving those much loved "back handed" compliments anyway.Obviously,I have plenty of time and energy to state my mind on these issues,just no cafe's,bookstores,or coffee houses,all my people read thier books on kindle while clutching an unwashed mug of mr.coffee crud in thier bathrobe.I don't drink any more,and I shave my head,so hair salons and bars are out. Maybe I should become a writer,this my first time,seems kind catharctic in aprivate kind of way. AHH!  HAA! more irony. By the way, the one who texted me,say's she likes to listen to the gret things I share in our planning meetings...huh...Well, I've just spent alot of time here alone,in front of my screen feels good not being rushed,especially since I'm just learning to process,type,email,text message and all that.

    I do miss phone calls,door bells,micro cassette answering machines.I think I'll make a point of introducing myself to the mailman tomorrow,I think he's getting layed off come january. :(

    Wow,it must be nice to get paid to do this. You have a COOL job man.

  • CHERYL D. SCOTT

    Hello Brett:

    You were by far the funniest, most blunt, and real person to post your comment...... Thank you for stating the facts... while adding plenty of humor while you were at it.... you did it with tact and grace.. but I so agree with everything you said.. not much more I can add, after you stated the most obvious truths.... I agree with you on more levels than you can imagine, it was almost scarey how much I shook my head in agreement with all that you had to say, about the way people conduct themselves in this new era and way of communicating... Really, it's not that hard to pick up the phone and say what's needed... People have literally abused this new way of so called communicating, to not have to use integrity/character to handle situations with class and dignity...

    Crazy... how, I know my clientele are manly of people younger than me... and the people I know within my age group.. seems to all complete for title, prestige, and who's more intellectual than the other... rather than, sharing and helping each other get to the next level in their career goals.... What are we to do???

  • Stephen Smyth

    I completely agree that in-person socializing is irreplaceable. We at Twigmore believe this applies especially to travel experiences. We've created a travel networking tool on Facebook that helps you connect with travelers and locals through friends. Rather than taking an algorithmic or online-only social networking approach, we've found that travelers want help from real people on the ground. They want to find trusted locals who can answer questions, show them around or just help when things come up. We think Twigmore achieves a good balance between online and offline socializing in the travel space.

  • natassa

    ....speaking, chatting whatever the word, spending time in a kafenion, coffee shop.....is interacting, meeting, seeing, face to face, you cannot hide!! you are seen, you are judged and besides you have a nice time, communicating...

  • natassa

    Pnika,   Athens Greece 507 BC
    By translation : 
    The Pnyx is a small, rocky hill surrounded by parkland.....is the material embodiment of the principle ofisēgoria (Greek: ἰσηγορία), "equal speech", i.e. the equal right of every citizen to debate matters of policy...."Tis agoreyein bouletai?" (Greek: "Τίς ἀγορεύειν βούλεται;", "Who wishes to speak?").

  • Charles

    I agree, in part, with Kevin but with a caveat.  Interpersonal relationships have a part of our social structure as we are not yet derived from machines and we all require touch to function as complex human beings that we are.  That being said, technology is taking us closer and closer to that interpersonal experience through video conferencing.  The 'real third place', 'arguing your ideas', and 'working better' can be accomplished just as easily using this tool when you 'carve out the time' to participate. It also allows us to expand our interpersonal 'space' to include other geographic areas to include the whole globe!  

  • Stephanie Barnard

    Kevin: well done! I understand the challenge of finding the
    Third Place. I'm also a writer and a public speaker. I work from home and have
    a variety of clients so my "work" relationships develop and
    wane according to deadlines. The best thing I did for my career:
    contacted a former boss and asked her to help with my latest book. I cranked
    out chapters, emailed them to her, then we met at the food court of an outlet mall
    to discuss the manuscript and generate ideas. Our friendship blossomed as our
    book unfolded. Of course, we still discuss ideas over email and the telephone,
    but our in-person "jam" sessions are by far the most productive and
    enriching.

  • Michael Yoder

    This is precisely why in my business networking group, LinkedUp Grand Rapids, I have always emphasized taking our virtual relationships to the next step: face-to-face meet ups. And, I think it is part of the reason the group has been so successful and is now at over 8,700 members. I've also developed a networking app that helps facilitate in person networking. It's called Link Live Now http://www.linklivenow.com. The idea behind the app is to get people to make the connection between their virtual network and people at live, in-person networking events.

  • Oais

    I agree, that simply adding a new "connection" is not networking.  Perhaps a middle ground is telephone networking with other executives and industry peers.  

    This is was my mission at Askvisory.com which I set up to help give executives their own little "black book" of contacts by telephone.