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The downside of too much screen-based workplace communication, Part II

It is among the most powerful under-the-radar social changes of the 21st century

Virtual Distance in the workplace not only undermines collaboration and innovation, but one’s basic sense of personal worth. It is among the most powerful under-the-radar social changes of the 21st century. If the impact of this shift was at first subliminal, the effects are now clear.

Since the 19th century, social research has consistently confirmed the critical importance of social support/in person interaction across a broad range of physical and mental health variables. It’s not surprising, then, that 21st century research shows that those who spend the most time on social media, i.e., interacting with people they will never meet in the flesh, experience negative outcomes like depression and a sense of social isolation.

You might ask, “But, hasn’t screen-based communication in some ways increased meaningful interpersonal contact?” For close friends and family, perhaps. However, as explained in Part I of this article, too much screen-based communication undermines workplace collaboration and productivity. Case in point: while email is a useful management tool for disseminating management edicts and baseline expectations, it does not nurture innovation or team spirit.

Management strategies for meeting this challenge head-on

  • Develop and deliver in-house training to highlight the problem and provide remedies; then monitor employee behavior to ensure they stay on track.
  • Reinforce effective strategies on your website, your intranet and other in-house venues.
  • Consistently encourage ‘techno-dexterity,’ i.e., discernment about what kinds of messages work best for different purposes and by what means they are best delivered.
  • Emphasize that before sending a written message, employees need to carefully consider what they want the receiver to do after they receive it.
  • If requesting detailed information, it’s by far better to get that information in person or by phone.
  • When communicating negative feedback, face-to-face or telephonic communication creates both better short and long-term outcomes.
  • If you’re a manager, you must model these behaviors to validate and reinforce desired changes. Otherwise, employees will quickly revert to their old ways.
  • Finally, create and periodically examine baseline productivity and innovation metrics to ensure progress.

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