Personal Interactions at Work: Is Technology Making Us Avoid Them?

Today’s workplace is fully wired, always on and untethered to geographical boundaries.

We now have tools through which we can collaborate with people across the continent or even connect with colleagues we’ve never met.

But as HR departments and management teams scramble to increase productivity via technology, it’s worth pausing to ask how these connective tools are affecting the way we interact.

Are we developing a culture of avoidance?

Cornerstone’s 2014 State of Workplace Productivity survey uncovered a striking statistic: 65 percent of workers say that with the right technology, they’d happily skip in-person meetings entirely. And as the infographic below shows, face-to-face office interactions of all kinds get similarly dismissed as “time wasters.”

O9_003_Face Time4-01

Nearly half of the employees we surveyed said they actively avoid spontaneous conversations, and a 2013 Trackvia survey found that 40 percent of respondents had worked with colleagues for an extended period time whom they’d never actually met in person — or even spoken to on the phone.

Nobody is arguing for more meetings, but in the race toward efficiency, are we unwittingly creating a heads-down mentality that short-changes the importance of personal interaction?

Are digital communications equally productive?

While the Trackvia survey found that employees still prefer physical conversations while gossiping or praising co-workers, work itself, for many, could be conducted exclusively via email.

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What stands out about both surveys is respondents’ seemingly nonchalant acceptance of digital communication (such as video conferencing, instant messaging, Google hangouts) as equally productive, if not more so, than face to face.

Look around your office: Is everyone wearing headphones, hunched over their computers? Could the modern office become a bunch of bodies hunkered down, preferring e-communication over actual conversation?

The implications of so much screen-only communication are yet to be determined — but anyone who’s had a spontaneous brainstorm in the hallway or a tough conversation with a co-worker knows, intuitively, that old-fashioned face time can’t be replaced.

This was originally published on the Cornerstone OnDemand blog

Charles is the Senior Director of Analyst and Community Relations at Cornerstone. He came to Cornerstone interested in the ways that technology can impact how organizations evaluate, motivate and value their employees. Charles is a study in permanence, having worked in every dark corner of Cornerstone since the early days of the company more than 16 years ago.