3 Ways to 'Transcend the Tech' in Your Team's Communications
An overreliance on technology can make your culture suck -- here are three ways to keep it real.
Technology has obviously opened up our ability to communicate, both on a personal and professional level, day or night.
And of course it hasn't always been this way: Back in the day, my mom would say, "You never call somebody before 9 o'clock in the morning or after 9 o'clock at night." But now, most of us will respond to emails and texts regardless of the hour, if we're available.
Unfortunately, however, it seems as if businesses are becoming overly reliant upon technology as a means of communicating. In turn, they're losing the immense value that face-to-face interactions can bring to their organizations.
There's evidence for this: A recent HubSpot survey discovered that remote workers have shallower relationships with their co-workers than on-site employees do. As we morph into more and more of a remote workforce, that's a problem that needs to be fixed. So, how do we do that?
To tool or not to tool?
Look, technology is awesome. It streamlines the ability to get things done, and it frees people to work within their own schedules.
In that context, I personally will use any tool available when I'm working. But when I'm out, I'm out. I value time away from those communication tools as well. But not everyone does: My younger employees, for example, are used to having their personal, professional, social and familial lives bleed into the same fabric. They love to use Slack and WhatsApp because they don't mind responding to texts, regardless of what they're doing at the moment.
Nonetheless, developing an overreliance on tech tools is a huge mistake. Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that face-to-face conversations result in higher levels of neural synchronization. Essentially, people are more in sync when they're talking in person, because they're more receptive to nonverbal signs and take turns in the conversation more easily.
When you're communicating electronically, in contrast, some of what you say gets lost in translation: If you've been on the wrong end of a miscommunication via email or text, you know just what I'm talking about.
Employees today need to hone both their written and verbal-communication skills. We need people to sound good and be convincing in a live, real-time, human communication setting -- not to just throw in their two cents on a Slack channel or email thread.
Instant messaging apps are great, as long as they're used correctly. But they can't become the sole communication strategy for your team. To make Slack and any other tech communications as effective as possible, colleagues need to work together, face to face. They need communication that transcends technology. And they need to blend traditional methods of communication with that technology.
Here's how to find that balance:
1. Make people comfortably uncomfortable.
We have a saying at Hawke: "This is the most comfortable place you'll ever be uncomfortable." We want a culture that not only pushes the limits, but also creates a safe space for work, so we have a lot of little spaces in our office that foster coffee-shop vibes. Employees can work independently if needed, or they can strike up conversations. We also have a space where employees can just hang out and get to know one other.
Create opportunities for people to interact, in the form of regular mandatory meetings, team-building activities or companywide exercises. Set up a buddy system where new hires are paired with more seasoned folks to help them get going and become enmeshed in the office culture.
If you push your employees to get to know one other, they will foster the kinds of trusting relationships that can inspire more creative collaboration and build great things.
2. Forge relationships physically; cultivate them electronically.
Building out a robust communication platform that allows people to work from anywhere in any time zone is great, but it has to be fortified and built on the foundation of strong interpersonal relationships. In turn, those relationships have to be forged physically by having people solve problems in the same place.
Of course, they don't have to entail work all the time: Developing a one-on-one understanding of colleagues can happen when people go to the same concert or beach picnic, when they drink a beer across the table from one other or have a dinner conversation around a whiteboard as they chow down on pizza. It's impossible to replicate that kind of interaction virtually through Slack or WhatsApp or WeChat.
Successful distributed companies know how to do this culture-building well. The CEO of Seamless Health, for instance, is Ritesh Idnani, and he insists that the whole remote team come together every quarter to build offline relationships. He's also proactive about pairing new employees with "important-to-know" co-workers so that they can begin to learn about the social aspects of the job more quickly.
3. Humanize business as much as possible.
If you want to improve communication across the board, you must increase the amount of face time employees spend with clients and co-workers, plus their bosses and the greater community. Even if your team is fully dispersed, encouraging face-to-face communication will help build connections that then strengthen the online communication that occurs when team members are back on Slack.
At our company, we co-host events every month, with cool companies such as Google or Facebook, where we invite our entire team and give everyone a chance to network and hear about a great topic. This isn't a client meeting or even a focused work setting; it's an opportunity to communicate about something completely different and build those live-interaction skills.
So, consider giving clients and vendors total access to your offices. Host lunch-and-learn sessions where your staff can meet those clients and vendors. Encourage your team to meet with clients at their offices. Anything you can do to keep the human element front and center will also benefit communication in the long run.
Bottom line? Yes, in fact, all the ideas will affect your bottom line. You want people to get to know one other in person and really come to understand who their co-workers are and what drives them. That will give them a better idea of how they can successfully communicate and collaborate; and being in a face-to-face setting, at least some of the time, will be critical, because it will enhance their understanding and enhance their skill sets.
When people can get things done well in person, virtual communications become that much stronger and more effective. Try it. You'll see.