Is technology killing work place interaction?

By Jonathan Jackson. Published at May 13, 2016, in Features

Between the times we communicate on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, simple conversations and interactions are lost.

It seems we are losing the human touch. That the ability to communicate with each other on an empathetic level is disappearing – lost in a cellular sea of handheld apps.

Does anybody look up from their phone to make eye contact with a random stranger as they walk down the street?

How many of you text your husbands or wives when you are just a lounge room apart.

“The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” is a 2014 Chinese study that looked at the effects that phones have when people talk face-to-face.

The study observed 100 couples having a 10-minute conversation while their phone was present. Researchers found individuals continued to handle their phones while conversing. When those same couples conversed without a phone present, their conversations resulted in greater empathy.

The report states: “Even when they are not in active use or buzzing, beeping, ringing, or flashing, [digital devices] are representative of people’s wider social network and a portal to an immense compendium of information. In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds. Their mere presence in a socio-physical milieu, therefore, has the potential to divide consciousness between the proximate and immediate setting and the physically distant and invisible networks and contexts.”

Domestic life has changed, some would argue not for the better, but what of the workplace...

Are we experiencing the same level of uncommunicative interactions at work that we do at home?

A report by Randstad suggest so.

The Randstad Workmonitor report (Wave 1 2016) found the majority of Australian workers (81%) believe technology and digitisation are having a major impact on their job.

Randstad’s findings reveal a key area of change feared by many Australian workers is communication, and more specifically the manner in which they interact with colleagues, clients and customers.

Almost nine in ten (88%) Australian workers believe face-to-face meetings are the best way to interact with people at work. This sentiment is on par with New Zealand (85%) and the global average (89%).

Almost two thirds (62%) of Aussies point out their interactions with work contacts are less frequently face-to-face due to technology. This is a figure much higher than the global average of 46%.

“Technology is undoubtedly having an increasing impact on the way we live, work and play. In the workplace, it forces us to ask the question each day of how, where and when to connect with people,” Australia & New Zealand Randstad CEO Frank Ribuot says.

“These findings are revealing of Australian workplace culture and the challenges employers face when adopting technologies.

“It would be more time efficient to conference call a client than travel to their office for a face-to-face meeting. And perhaps it’s quicker to email a colleague than stop by their desk for a conversation. But are these interactions as effective as they could be? Would a more meaningful connection and better rapport be established in person?”

Ribuot believes the key to a pleasant and effective working environment are interpersonal relationships.

Comradery among colleagues, along with rapport with clients is important, but is diminishing as the workplace is further digitised.

That’s not to say workplaces should ignore or sacrifice digital innovations, what is important here is a balance between empathetic and digital communication.

“There needs to be more to technological advancement in the workplace than simply investing in solutions and tools,” Ribuot adds.

“Even if your company has adopted software specifically related to communication, such as Skype for Business, it’s vital that company policies still promote regular face-to-face interaction with colleagues and customers.

“It is a matter of finding the right balance between ‘tech’ and ‘touch’ in the workplace. Adopt technologies which will allow the business to become more efficient, deliver a better product or service faster or with a lower return on investment. My advice would be not to let those technologies come at the expense of real life, in person, face-to-face interactions.

“In general, implementation of technology and tools for technology sake does not enhance the working environment. Tools are only effective when the right environment, the right culture and the right support are in place. Only then can tools enhance the experience of employees.”

Sometimes it’s best to put the phone down and talk a little.

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