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In the business world today, face-to-face communication and interactions aren’t happening as frequently as they probably did 20 years ago. Today, communication is reliant on conference calls, emails and even social media. And while these tools have enhanced the speed, ease and feasibility of communication, they’ve made it more challenging for us to get to know who we’re doing business with. While the new workforce, the millennials, seem to jive well with the technological advancement, the more mature workforce still relies upon face-to-face interactions. However, there’s no denying that technology is the norm.

Whether we consider how our business operates or communicates, there’s always going to be some level of technology impacting and enhancing our work environment. Is that necessarily a bad thing or is it that we’re just having a hard time adjusting to these rapid changes?

Today’s Workplace

Business today has evolved enormously. It’s global, exponentially growing and it’s evolving ever so rapidly. Virtual teams, agile talent and remote offices aren’t just rising trends – they’re realities and globally spread out. Not to mention our business partners, suppliers and customers who also are worldwide. Time zones and office hours matter less today. We’re always communicating, making decisions, seeking information and learning. Thanks to advancements in mobile technology all this is the new norm. And there’s no avoiding or denying it.

Consider traditional office hours for a moment here. The 9-to-5 standard is fast becoming history. Employees walk into work with the flexibility of working later or leaving earlier. And that’s because thanks to enhanced communications they can remain in touch from their homes or even the doctor’s office. They’re able to shoot out emails, have conference calls and send approvals from virtually anywhere in the world. And since the global village is so connected and shrinking, being on a call at 3am to talk to your business partner who’s across the globe isn’t news anymore. Flexibility is the new standard. Of course, that puts a lot of emphasis on accountability, but that’s a separate topic.

What’s simultaneously happening thanks to flexibility and enhanced communications is that people are able to balance their personal lives into their work schedule. And while priorities haven’t changed, possibilities have increased. So now, you can attend your child’s school play, hop into a bank or schedule a visit to the doctor knowing that you’ll always remain in touch with your business associates and colleagues. Getting home on time for family dinner isn’t a myth, it’s become a reality. Sure you may have to attend to your mobile phones to send out a crucial response ‘during’ dinner, but isn’t that a fair tradeoff?

The Fast Got Faster

Emails made many things possible and fast. It made it possible to get a response from your correspondent within minutes. Compared to the ‘snail mail’ way of communicating that took days, weeks and sometimes even months. More than that, emails made it possible to send across documents as attachments and have them virtually signed off (e-signatures). It enhanced productivity and communications.

Then came tools like Skype that made conference calls a feasible and logistical possibility. You were enabled to talk to anyone, anywhere and anytime.

Today, a new way of communicating is fast gaining popularity. Workplace communication tools like Slack, Trello, Atlassian and Facebook’s Workplace have taken it to the next level. This leap in technology driven communication has led to:

  • An increased ability to work remotely since employees don’t have to be in the same room as their colleagues to get projects done.
  • A boost in efficiency as these platforms help employees communicate, share information and knowledge, collaborate and work on various tasks and projects simultaneously.
  • An increase in cross-functional engagement as the platforms provide employees the ability to discuss topics of interests (movies, books, etc) and share ideas using channels and forums.

Challenges in Communication

While workplace communication tools have significantly enhanced collaboration and communication, there are a few cons as well.

Remember how part of email etiquettes it was prescribed to rereading your email before hitting the send button. Essentially, the practice encouraged you to pay attention to your choice of words, the tone you’re using and of course clear out any grammatical errors or typos. Above all, you were also advised to be mindful about sending an email when you’re feeling highly emotional, angry, upset, frustrated or even agitated.

However, with the swiftness of workplace communication tools it seems you’re now susceptible to the common mistakes you were cautioned about with emails. And that’s mainly because messaging and comments are quicker, reflexive and almost always sent on impulse. When you’re sending your message on-the-go, you’re sending them along with your emotions, because you’re seldom rethinking what you’ve typed out. Also, there’s the pressure of responding immediately (after all, that’s the best use of these communication tools isn’t it?). And in that, you’re just blurting out messages that pop into your mind. This increases your likelihood of responding emotionally and without thinking things through. Sometimes you may get into trouble for it as well.

And then there’s the issue of engagement. Before emails, communication was primarily face-to-face or via telephone. Then came emails which reduced face-to-face conversations, however, the occasional calls were sometimes necessary to discuss things. All that got enhanced when we dived into the world of video calls as we could now have discussions in a virtual face-to-face setting. This allowed us to save on travel expenses and have regular meetings with team members geographically anywhere. All that’s great because now we’re closer to our homes and spending less of the company’s resources. However, what it also did was eliminate from the equation the physical bonding that comes with face-to-face meetings. Something even as simple as a handshake did just that.

Yet, as a consolation, we still were engaged and conducting face-to-face meetings with those in our office. Oops, I spoke too soon! Thanks to these workplace communication tools that also is on the decline. Now, as more and more companies adopt platforms like Slack, physical communication within the office is depleting.

You now don’t even need to walk across to the next cubicle to discuss something with your colleagues. Just send drop a message using the communication tool and you’ll have your answer with a snap of a finger. Goodbye water-cooler conversations?

Over the course of time, we’ll be ‘seeing’ less of our colleagues and team members and communicating primarily through these tools, apps and systems. How are we supposed to stay engaged and connected as a team? What happens to synergies within cross-functional and departmental teams? What will our corporate culture look like if we continue down this path?

For me, all this spells out to a highly disengaged work environment. Humans need to indulge in interactions that stimulate our senses. In the advent of communication tools, there’ll be an absence of engagement and interactions that arose from sensory stimuli.

Making it Better

So if the future holds disengagement because we chose to communicate via tools and systems what do we do? A disengaged office isn’t going to be productive or effective. And since we can’t stay in the dark ages when communication is revolutionizing, there’s simply no turning back. Hence, as far as I see it there could be a few tweaks that’s needed.

1. Have Engagement Activities

Engagement activities just got important again. Just when you thought these are overdone to a point of mundane exercises, they found a way to be essential again.

2. Set Boundaries

How your organization communications is a critical part of successfully embracing technology. Much like email etiquettes, boundaries and standards of how communication should flow over these tools needs to be set. It’s what’ll define your culture and maintain healthy, working relationships among your employees.

3. Always On, With Caution

A side effect of always being able to communicate is burn out. If you’re expected to reply and remain in touch always (be it day or night) you’re bound to get frustrated with work and your team. There needs to be some parameters set that allows you some personal time.

Workplace communication is a vital part of doing business. How do you communicate at your workplace and what improvements do you feel can enhance workplace communication? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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