Prior to the past year’s work-from-home mandates and options, a typical scene of an office meeting may have looked something like this:
Some attendees placed their smartphones on top of the conference room table, while others might have set up their laptops and began typing away. As the meeting progressed, phones might have been buzzing (with attendees doing the occasional glance to see what notification they were receiving). These digital distractions did nothing to enhance the intended in-person group conversation.
Somehow, over the years leading up to the pandemic, it evidently became acceptable for attendees to ensure they didn’t miss a text or email during a business meeting. It seems that just about everywhere the use of mobile devices has reduced in-person, face-to-face conversations. And, if it’s not the smartphone, messages sent from laptops, desktops and other mobile devices serve as the core of daily business and personal communications. Add in virtual calls and the business communications platform, once entirely dependent upon in-person interaction, has become largely composed of digital approaches.
The dependence on electronic communication is easy to understand because it is simple, fast and convenient. Yet, in so many instances the true content and context of the intended message might get lost in “cyberspace.” Before the “digital age,” business was conducted very differently than it is today:
- Conversations were in-person or on the telephone.
- Attendees at presentations listened to the speakers rather than “multitasking” on their mobile devices.
- We read and digested information prior to making decisions rather than reacting to real-time news through mobile device notifications.
- We got to know individuals we did business with rather than learning about them through social media and network portals like LinkedIn.
- Attention spans were greater than three seconds, which allowed us to listen and be focused.
- Thank you notes were handwritten, mailed and personalized.
- Sales presentations/pitches were delivered in person versus the “daily dozen” spam emails that produce impersonal, hard-sell sales pitches from people we have never met.
- People had the courage to have the tough conversations in person rather than using the keyboard to deliver the message.
- Expected immediate response 24/7 to our messages did not exist.
- The phone was used to talk and listen to others. No games, emojis, texts, emails or videos.
Though these all might seem outdated or old-fashioned, they all worked. Sure, digital communication is significantly faster than the traditional face-to-face interactions, but at what cost?
Today, digital devices and automation are seemingly smarter than we are, and they are getting smarter every moment. There are those who suggest that there will be a tipping point sometime soon when the fragile balance between our ability to compete with machines will tilt in the machines’ favor. We may already be at that point. And, it does not help that the younger generations have been raised basically with an “electronic pacifier” in their hands.
Technology and digital applications are wonderful (and amazing) when utilized to complement and support our day-to-day activities at and outside of work. If we allow the best of who we are as human beings to shine through, while utilizing technology, the combination could be impressive.
As we continue to reemerge from a devastating pandemic, companies will be seeking new and better ways to sustain success, growth and profitability. Maybe one approach to elevate your business is to reach back to the past and incorporate some of the time-tested communications practices that worked so long ago.
For workers and businesses to remain relevant in the future, we will need to rely on our greatest strength — all of the characteristics that make us truly human. If we continue to set these aside and allow technology to be a cheap substitute for our interactions and communications with others, we may lose more jobs, businesses and, worst of all, ourselves.