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The majority of people spend at least 30 hours per week with their colleagues — a fraction of the daytime hours they spend with loved ones. While digital communication channels—, such as Slack and email—, have increased efficiency, they have also made the workplace more impersonal. So the question becomes “Increase efficiency, but at what cost?”

The Dangers of Digital Communication in the Workplace

Most workplaces offer a mix of face to face and digital communication. While employees may come together for meetings, they turn to email and chat channels to get answers.

While Slack or IM may be fine for a quick answer, there is a risk of misunderstanding. When people speak, they give off physical cues that contextualize the information being shared. A smile, tone of voice, a punctuated gesture, or other nuance helps the listener understand the emotional subtext behind the interaction.

Employees may know that emails are easy to misunderstand, but struggle with how to strike a softer tone. Should they insert an emoji? Crack a joke? Will someone get offended by their joke or accuse them of triggering behavior? Overthinking soon sets in, which decreases productivity, morale, and can quash creative thinking due to fear and uncertainty.

Over time, disagreements arising from digital communication can affect relationships and morale particularly when someone on the team has a tone that comes across as negative in print. If these conflicts are not addressed, they can poison the workplace culture.

The Value of Human Connection in the Workplace

Knowing the dangers of misinterpreting cues over digital communication, it should be easy to see how human connectivity helps promote a positive workplace culture.

When employees talk face to face, there is much less potential for misunderstanding and negative feelings. It is also easier to ask questions face to face, which can add context or increase understanding so everyone is on the same page.

Talking face to face, in real-time, as opposed to over a time-delayed email or chat. There's less back and forth, which can increase productivity at the individual and team levels.

This can also increase creativity because a spontaneous conversation can spark a new idea. You never know what someone else might say that will get you thinking. It is less likely though not impossible that communication through email will help give someone a great new idea.

Communicating face to face also builds trust and connection between employer and employee as well as between colleagues. This can foster goodwill and build that sense of teamwork that can transform an organization from surviving to thriving. There simply is no substitute for connecting on a human level.

It is not realistic that all interactions be face-to-face, but it should not be the norm that all interactions are digital, either. There are situations in which a quick check-in via email or group chat is the best approach just as there are circumstances when everyone should come together and connect face to face.

Does understanding the risks of digital vs. human connection, and the impacts it has on employees interest you? If so then organizational psychology could be an exciting career path for you. The California School of Professional Psychology offers PhD & Master’s Degree programs in organizational psychology. For more information contact Alliant International University.

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