Over the last decade, the advance of marketing technology in the workplace has been astounding. Powerful, easily accessible and relatively inexpensive platforms allow global engagement with many in seconds. These platforms increase productivity — perhaps immeasurably — save time and money, and offer immense creative potential in every segment of the corporate environment. Yet, we must always be cognizant of the potentially negative ramifications.
I once noticed my team members at a previous company working in an open workspace and texting other team members three workstations away. What a ridiculous situation. The organization had invested thousands to create a work area that was conducive to free-flowing conversation, idea exchange and lively face-to-face engagement. Yet, people were tapping away on their phones or via the company’s instant messaging platform to the people sitting next to them.
Obviously, I couldn’t take away their phones or shut down the company’s instant messaging platform. So, I tried something else. At the next staff meeting, I used a group list with everyone’s cell phone numbers to start the meeting by text.
“Good morning,” I texted, saying nothing. I looked at my phone’s screen as text message alerts came up on the cell phones around the table.
Strange looks all around.
“Today, I’d like to start with a progress report on the results of the latest focus group,” I continued texting, still staring at my phone.
“I’d like the project manager to bring us all up to date. Please start texting your report,” I typed, never looking up.
Being an enormously smart team, they began to smile and said, almost simultaneously, “OK, we get it.”
I can’t say they never texted or instant messaged each other after that, but I did notice more interaction, and the place was buzzing with energy. My point is that we all must manage within technology, not around it.
The Human-Technology Balance
At CFA Institute, we do a lot to encourage human interaction, while employing the latest in technology. For example, we ask our office designers to incorporate open meeting spaces, informally arranging furniture that is not quite living-room style but is not traditional meeting space, either. Sure, we have high-tech conference rooms, but we find the other setups work well for smaller meetings,
In addition, we use open work areas in some offices and are transitioning to more open environments in others. We also vigorously encourage team members to eat with each other in our lunchrooms, create on-campus activities such as exercise sessions and do what we can to sponsor off-campus activities that stimulate employee engagement. We have regular town meetings during which our leadership encourages direct and hard questions.
Of course, we have a vigorous internal communications program, but it is mostly technology-based, and while valuable, it is no substitute for communicating directly with other human beings. We all recognize that. As a global organization, we must always be cognizant of different time zones, but I like to encourage video conference calls when possible.
Communication Sans Technology: Make It A Goal
Most CFA Institute facilities lend themselves to being designed as human interaction points. Other organizations may or may not have such adaptable workspaces, but in the past, I’ve found a few other tactics to work reasonably well regardless of office layout. For instance, monthly networking breakfasts have proven effective. These can be hosted by different employees or teams.
We all know people often respond well to goals. While it may sound silly, suggest that each employee set a goal of having two face-to-face or telephone conversations a day, especially when sending a text or email may be tempting. One must be cautious not to include such a goal as part of a performance review, but rather stress what most know anyway: Digital communications can often be misread and misunderstood, potentially causing unnecessary emotional reactions and even resulting in costly mistakes.
As with much in management, working within technology to enhance the productivity it generates is often best handled with some quiet time away from mobile phones and computers to consider some common-sense solutions to get people to actually talk to one another. It’s easier than you think.