The impact of technology on human social skills: a communicator’s challenge
The nature of work changes with advances. Some people get that change and others don’t. Those who don’t get left behind. Geoff Colvin explains this in his recent book
Humans are Underrated.
He also talks about what skills will be most important in the future work environment:
“…employers’ top priorities include relationship building, teaming, co-creativity, brainstorming, cultural sensitivity, and the ability to manage diverse employees—right-brain skills of social interaction.”
What really concerns me, however, is his take – grounded in research, of course – on how technology is affecting those social interaction skills:
“…to the extent we don’t have those in-person conversations, pushing them out of our schedules in favor of virtual interactions, we’re not developing our brains as fully as we might…”
The digital workplace is in business to stay
I consult with clients about how to create a productive digital environment that facilitates access to the people, tasks and information our employees need to perform effectively. My work enables me to dig into business process, organizational culture, governance methodology and more.
But, at the core is the presumption that employees connect and interact increasingly in a digital experience. For most of our clients, the alternative of flying employees around to be together in the same room is not an option.
Naturally, I am concerned that heavier use of technology may interfere with the very skills we communicators rely on to be amazing. But, we cannot rid the work environment of technology and in most cases we cannot bring everyone into one building. The digital workplace is here to stay.
Balancing technology with personal interaction
Figuring out how to use technology effectively, but create opportunities for employees to engage in personal interaction is the internal communicator’s next greatest challenge.
As we drive toward a true digital workplace, we must consider the need for people to interact in ways that enable them to further develop social skills. And, I don’t mean the ability to post on Snapchat.
While I’m still noodling on this very important challenge, here are several initial thoughts:
- Video: I spend a lot of time on video calls these days. They enable me to see expressions and engage people in the dialogue more effectively. Video isn’t perfect, but it’s better than audio-only. It will continue to rise in importance.
- Listening: While this has always been important to interpersonal social skills, it is more important than ever before. We must listen not only for content and comprehension, but also for tone, attitude, emotion, etc.
- Writing and reading: Never before have words meant more. Never before has it been so easy to misunderstand. We write without considering tone (I am guilty too) and we read-in attitude that isn’t there. Clear content becomes ever more important.
- Drive innovation: We must innovate within communication to balance technology with personal interaction. Another recent post of mine discusses how communicators can drive innovation across our organizations.
As I tell my teenagers, sometimes it’s best to make a phone call instead of sending a text. Sometimes, it’s important to put the technology down and interact face-to-face (as when breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend).
Internal communicators must find ways to incorporate face-to-face communication, collaboration and dialogue into employee life where feasible. We also need to find innovative ways to use technology to deliver such opportunities.
Interested in hearing about other digital workplaces and how organizations are leveraging SharePoint? Want to brainstorm about the balance of technology and personal interaction? Join me as I chair ALI’s SharePoint for Internal Communications conference in Chicago in April.
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