Simply stated, they become part of your traveling experience.
Different from the big ships where your waiter is only your waiter and your steward only fixes your cabin, otherwise they are somewhere else and you never see or interact with them. You may know your cruise director, but will he know you?
Crew members on a small ships share the thirst for adventure along with the passenger. Their job is unique in that they have the duties of whatever they are assigned, but they are also there to mix and mingle with the passengers. They become your traveling companions, your fellow explorers, your experts on less traveled waterways.
Due to the size of the ships and number of staff, they usually have to wear numerous hats. My college daughter worked for a summer on a small ship. She served meals in the dining room, cleaned the cabins and sang opera in the lounge in the evenings. There is no hidden staff area on the ship except where they sleep. They do not have their own “hangout” spots. They are encouraged to mix and mingle on their time off. To share their experiences from week to week on the itinerary. To share where they go on their precious time off. They know the local joints in the ports, where the locals hang out.
They are there to serve and interact with the passengers. Informal, casual, up close and personal, they are part of the whole cruise experience. At the end of the cruise, the passengers and crew know each other by name.