Workplaces have become less personal due to workplace virtualization, competitive pressures, and impersonal communication tools
Thanks to technological advancements, we can now communicate with little or no face-to-face contact. While there are arguable benefits (such as convenience, expedience and mobility), there is one big downside: Many people feel more alone than ever.
Remote work, geographically disbursed workforces, 24-7 digital exhaustion, and extended commute times are making people more isolated than ever. The paradox of our modern workplace is that the more tools we have to make connection easier, the lonelier we become. This is a bottom-line issue, with significant impacts on morale and mental health. An emerging, crucial role of HR leaders is to combat loneliness by fostering connections between colleagues in our tech-centric era.
Why it matters: Humans are tribal by nature
Connection is a primary human need: Our brains are hardwired to understand that we are stronger together. When we feel connected, it stimulates the release of “feel good” chemicals in the brain such as oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, which make us feel happy and calm. This, in turn, has a positive effect on our physical health and our ability to perform.
Unfortunately, 85 per cent of employees around the world are not engaged or are actively disengaged from their jobs, according to a 2017 survey by Gallup. They simply aren’t feeling connected. Our organizations have become less personal due to rapid growth, workplace virtualization, competitive pressures, and increasingly impersonal communication tools.
Today’s leaders often talk more about numbers and technology than they do about people and relationships. But it turns out that the quality of our business relationships is critically important to achieving greatness.
As HR leaders, we must take the tribal brain into account. Research has shown, for example, that social rewards and recognition are often more important to employees than money. And although we commonly label work groups as “teams” and “communities,” they are really nothing more than modern-day “tribes.”
In order to support individuals’ professional engagement and growth, it is imperative that we find ways to keep our tribes functional and personable, even in the face of somewhat dehumanizing tech.
Two simple ways to humanize tech
Technology isn’t going away, and it is unrealistic to suggest that we should simply ignore the latest advancements and turn back the clock on how we conduct business. But as HR leaders, there are a few simple and impactful strategies we can use to mitigate the effects of tech disconnection. Here are two of them:
Communication: Online tools provide an increasing number of ways to communicate more efficiently. But if you want to humanize your approach, reach beyond email and instant messages. For dispersed workforces and remote employees, improved and seamless video conferencing and screen sharing can foster more effective team collaboration and simulate a face-to-face style meeting.
In my personal experience, working with a geographically dispersed team of HR leaders, we haven’t let water, ferries, and kilometers come between us. Each week we use Zoom video conferencing and screen sharing to connect. With this user-friendly, web-based technology, we are able to see each other and gain all of the benefits of in-person communication, while minimizing the impact of travel and expense that were once required for such a meeting.
Applications like Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting and others can be accessed via computer or mobile device to accommodate a variety of working styles and IT requirements.
Considering the significance of human connection on the brain, championing video communication throughout your organization — particularly when it is available for little to no cost — is a great humanizing move.
Learning and development: Computer-based learning is convenient, accessible, affordable, and flexible. But self-paced programs can be problematic due to the lack of human connection — engagement, accountability and retention can suffer. That’s because most online programs lack important educational social factors, like face-to-face engagement with faculty and other students.
Online training that leverages both technology and human connection can help. With cohort-based learning and faculty support, participants can have plenty of “face time,” and the curriculum serves up bite-sized lessons spaced out over time, to accommodate today’s very real human challenge of distraction.
For any online training program, make sure to look at the degree of real-time human interaction it includes, or add your own face-to-face followup sessions to boost accountability.
As one Deloitte analysis in 2019 states, “Technology has leaped ahead of leaders and organizations, and the human element needs to catch up.” Technology will continue to change the landscape of doing business. And it’s up to HR leaders to advocate for and lead the way in making it more human.
Sandra McDowell is the founder of eLeadership Academy, helping leaders and organizations increase performance and well-being by leveraging neuroscience insights to harness the untapped power of the brain. For more information, visit www.e-leadershipacademy.com.