While technology has rapidly improved many areas of life, it has also led to a handful of preventable drawbacks in communication. With its speed and convenience, communicating via technology (texts, emails, Slack chats, social media, etc.) can at times become the only means of communication between colleagues or even between management and employees.
Not Leaving Work
Technology and telecommuting have freed many employees from the rigors of working in an actual office. However, while employees may no longer be tethered to their desk, telecommuting also makes it difficult for the employee to be clocked out. A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that 53 percent of Americans work during the weekend and 52 percent work outside work hours. It can be incredibly difficult to ignore the phone vibration or the computer ding indicating that there is a new email, so many employees naturally end up doing more work than they did when they only worked at the office.
Low Cost of Inclusion
Virtual meetings allow companies the benefit of transferring information without the necessary cost of travel. The low cost of virtual meetings, as well as the simplicity of inviting and accepting meeting invitations, has caused organizers to sometimes include more employees than the meeting needs. Employees, for fear of missing something covered, often will accept these invitations, leading to their schedules including back-to-back meetings covering topics that may not even be directly relevant to that employee.
Email has encouraged some employees to replace face-to-face conversations with digital communication. At times, the sender of the email has never personally met the person(s) they are emailing. It can be harder to empathize with a name on a screen than it is another human being.
Additionally, email eliminates important verbal discourse that can, at times, both be more efficient and develop relationships. Some emails are used to convey complicated ideas from management to the employees, and email can be a difficult medium to encourage questions and discussion. If the content of original email is complicated, then the subsequent questions and discussion are also likely complicated. To complicate matters further, writers of emails tend to err on the side of brevity, so much of the discussion can revolve around a lack of comprehensive information. As such, a face-to-face conversation would allow employees to discuss as the information is being conveyed, enabling managers to tailor their explanation in real time to the applicable group of employees.
Each morning and throughout the day, employees hear regular notifications from their computer. Employees receive meeting reminders, instant messages, and email alerts creating a major distraction from the task at hand. With enough of the email containing necessary information, employees are forced to stop what they are doing to check their email, and afterward, get back to the task at hand. A 2015 study by the University of California, Irvine shows that it takes an average of about 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. So, each time an employee spends 15 seconds checking an email notification, it is not just 15 seconds of productivity lost. It is actually 25 minutes and 15 seconds of productivity lost.
These distractions are not limited to workplace technology. Even employees’ social media notifications or personal emails can be a distraction leading to the previously mentioned lost productivity. At Jules Halpern Associates LLC, we have helped organizations craft and implement policies to help employees minimize the amount of distractions they receive at work.
Enabled Workplace Harassment
Digital communication in the workplace can be a source of harassing messages. With communications becoming more casual, employees have included sexually suggestive, profane or abusive language into their workplace correspondence. Included in this type of email abuse would be things such as propositioning a work colleague, or sending racist or sexually offensive jokes, cartoons and other items through office email.
Writing Process Issues
Digital workplace communication encourages shallow conversations that ultimately result in workers being impatient with the writing process. Slack conversations can be useful for updates and ideas, but when it comes to sustaining a full conversation or description of an issue, the platform does not allow for that. Even email, which can contain a long-form message, is generally used to communicate short messages. Employees can easily get out of practice, or without the skills needed for writing in long-form and providing key details, background, and analysis.
Since technology is not going away, it is best to consider methods of communication that allow employees to minimize the negative effects of too much electronic communication. While the United States Supreme Court Justices communicate with each other mostly on paper rather than by email, today’s modern businesses probably cannot cut out technology to that degree. To help employees disconnect from work during non-work hours, consider cross-training employees to handle each other’s emergencies so employees can take turns being on call or off work. To minimize the number of meetings everyone has scheduled, send just one or two employees from each team or department to go to the meeting. Those employees can send an email out to the rest of the team regarding what everyone needs to know.
Finally, to encourage a more personal level of communication, consider calling or talking to the other party in person more often. Seeing family pictures or photos of him or her participating in their hobby makes it far easier to remember that the person on the other end of that email is just that: a person.