Employees are the lifeblood of an organization. They ensure a company runs smoothly on a daily basis, stays afloat during economic downturns, and continues to thrive in halcyon times. However, the ever-increasing presence of technology in the workplace, especially within the past year, has started to shift the company-employee dynamic. Many are sharing plans about closing offices and/or turning to long-term, remote working conditions. (Even we at BarkerGilmore are researching and formulating new policies to that end.)
Technology improves operational efficiency, limits the potential for human error, allows employees to focus on strategy and connecting with customers, and facilitates more rapid expansion on a national and international scale. And yet, the question remains: has it also reduced hands-on, collaborative teamwork?
Yes, without technology, companies would struggle to grow and adapt. However, without people, they would barely exist. Before technology was so widely utilized, teamwork and collaboration were integral factors to the success of a business. Just look at some of the most well-known startups and largest companies in the world.
This increased use of technology has made it even more imperative than ever before that corporate leaders proactively foster a culture of collaboration, connectedness, and inclusion within their teams.
Technology: The Good and the Bad
Technology has the uncanny ability to both hinder and bolster a company’s culture:
- It has helped to keep many organizations afloat and people employed during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has lowered the overhead cost of running a company and allowed many employees to maintain (and even increase) their output from the “comfort” of their homes.
Yet, as we saw recently with Goldman Sachs, the work-from-home set-up has created the notion that we should, ideally, be connected 24/7. Employees are struggling to separate or step away from their work, shut off for a period, and refuel, which leads to additional stress and reduces team morale and productivity.
- Technology has made almost everything easier: learning, communicating, innovating, accessibility, and reducing costs while increasing revenue are much more efficient processes now when compared to ten, or even five, years ago.
Yet, we have become so dependent on technology that we struggle to function when it fails. When the power goes out, the internet disconnects, or software glitches, accomplishing even routine tasks becomes arduous.
- Technology is needed to streamline and optimize business operations.
Yet, an increased use of automated processes can make employees feel replaceable or uninspired.
- With technology, we have the means to communicate with others at any given moment, share documents, and connect “face-to-face” in an instant. This ability to constantly communicate is changing the way people view themselves and how they interact with their fellow human beings. They can get attention, always be heard, and never have to be alone.
And yet, connecting electronically can also lead to feelings of isolation. With technology, we have more efficient, but less meaningful, communication. People lose the time to think before speaking and the ability to truly listen to one another. In turn, we see teams with reduced interpersonal skills, less collaboration, and a weakened drive to learn new things. The ability to connect and be collaborative, to develop relationships, and to align on goals and tasks quickly dissipates.
In this day and age, the use of technology is unavoidable, and its benefits are undeniable. However, that does not mean companies need to settle for, or turn a blind eye to, its inherent drawbacks. Au contraire, there is much corporate leaders can and should do to ensure their company’s culture, ambition, and footprint are not lost as technology advances and strengthens its hold on the business world.
Technology and Culture
In an age where social media and online forums have a major presence, we as a culture have swayed from connecting physically to connecting virtually: for meetings, roundtables, debates, dating, news, etc. This connectedness keeps the world moving forward; and yet, it also creates a disconnection when it comes to cultivating a culture and workplace that is inclusive, safe, and kind.
Consider the following:
- When we are not face-to-face, it is easier to speak our mind, be who we truly are, and also to be more aggressive and forceful. Think of some of the things that have been said in email or text message that wouldn’t have been said in-person.
- When communicating through digital platforms, it is easier to ignore conflict and other cultural issues within the organization. A passive-aggressive email can be disregarded for however long the recipient wants. An uncomfortable Zoom meeting can be ended with the simple click of a button.
- When we start to rely too heavily on technology, we expect less from each other and the desire and ability to connect at a human level dwindles.
The positives and negatives of technology, and the ramifications of its misuse or mismanagement, add a whole new layer to what it takes to be a good leader in the digital era.
How can we maximize the use of technology while reaping the many benefits that can only be found through human connection and collaboration? Do we need to have daily video meetings with our team? How do we keep them motivated and challenged? How do we ensure they are doing all they can without coming across as overbearing? There isn’t a ubiquitous answer to these questions.
We have three generations working together in many companies, and each generation has different goals, needs, and worries. Inclusivity is essential but creating a message and nouveau culture needs to be aligned, to a certain extent, on an individual basis. Some want and need direct critiques, some need a compassionate, goal-oriented approach, others have the internal drive and motivation to succeed regardless of their environment.
When trying to find a balance for your team when it comes to use of technology and collaboration, keep the following in mind:
- Consider a goal-oriented approach.
- Ask people on your team what works best for them when it comes to tracking workflow.
- Have some personal one-on-one or team check-ins. Every time you meet doesn’t need to be focused on work-related matters.
- Assign tasks that will require communication with other teammates either on a daily basis, or at least every other day.
- Don’t shy away from being direct when work is not completed on time.
- Set a precedent from day one but be flexible. Everyone has different needs and thrives under different leadership styles.
And above all else, remember easier isn’t synonymous with better. Technology is best when it is used as an augmentation to human interaction – not a substitute for it.
If we become too engrossed in technology and the efficiencies it affords, we so quickly lose sight of the ideals that help companies progress – and at the very heart of those ideals are the people, with their ideas and ability to work together to create something new. For a company’s culture to continually develop, adapt, and mature, it needs the human element to ensure intangible (and invaluable) soft skills live on in a world of automation and AI.
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