Buzzword: Collaboration – Technology is the Ultimate Enabler

Are you too busy multi-tasking on your electronic devices to pay attention to the people in the room with you?

As the illustration shows, technology often takes the place of face-to-face interaction. Note the single figure (Hey!) who is asking for attention. But is technology the enabler we are looking for? Can virtual teams succeed? The answer is, “yes” and “no.”

 The Internet, smart phone and video conferencing are a diverse set of tools that magically unite us with colleagues across time and space. They are limited, however, in providing “social presence.” Technology makes it easy to communicate quickly, but does quality match ease and speed? How many misunderstandings occur through email? Do team members fail to update others with new data? Can tacit knowledge—like learning to use the copier—be transmitted electronically?

As the illustration shows, technology often takes the place of face-to-face interaction. Note the single figure (Hey!) who is asking for attention. But is technology the enabler we are looking for? Can virtual teams succeed? The answer is, “yes” and “no.”

The Internet, smart phone and video conferencing are a diverse set of tools that magically unite us with colleagues across time and space. They are limited, however, in providing “social presence.” Technology makes it easy to communicate quickly, but does quality match ease and speed? How many misunderstandings occur through email? Do team members fail to update others with new data? Can tacit knowledge—like learning to use the copier—be transmitted electronically?

Is the amount of face-time between your team members as well as your clients declining? If so, you may want to consider the effects of Virtual Distance. According to authors of Uniting the Virtual Workforce, Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly, Virtual Distance “is a psychological distance created between people by an over-reliance on electronic communication.” Their research shows that as Virtual Distance increases there is a:

– 50% decline in project success (on-time, on-budget delivery)
– 90% drop in innovation effectiveness
– 80% plummet in work satisfaction
– 83% fall off in trust
– 65% decrease in role and goal clarity
– 50% decline in leader effectiveness

If technology allows your company to communicate with ease and speed, that is great. But, you may want to evaluate the quality of that communication and monitor the satisfaction of your employees as well as your clients. Have you ever been misunderstood in an email or had a hard time hearing someone during a conference call? That affects the quality of the communication, right? Furthermore, face-to-face interactions provide opportunities for deeper connections, moments that may have lasting impact on your corporate culture and client satisfaction.

Does your work environment provide the right balance between technological and human interactions?