“While social technology allows people to work from anywhere, managers should be aware of cultural change that can occur in removing traditional face-to-face meetings and shared office spaces. While communicating over e-mail or SMS can be useful in some contexts, research indicates that face-to-face communication remains critical for efficient communication in businesses.”
Devin Drover MBA/JD
Over the last two decades, the Internet has given rise to the development of new social technologies that have had a significant influence on how people obtain and share information. These technologies – like social media applications Facebook and Twitter, or instant-messaging platforms Slack and WhatsApp – have redesigned ordinary practices of organizational communication in both formal and informal ways. Now, due to on-going COVID-19 pandemic, more and more organizations are moving to remote working environments, and relying more on these social technologies on a day-to-day basis. As a result, managers should be aware of the implications that relying more on these technologies will impact all elements of their organization.
One area that managers should be especially aware of as they adapt to new social technology and remote-working is expected changes in organizational culture. With this growth in technological capability, including ubiquitous access to workplace activities through the Internet, both executives and employees will be challenged to change the way they interact with each other and adapt to the technologies that enable their work.
Past research indicates that one area of workplace culture that has been impacted significantly by the use of social technology is workplace expectations. Social media use in crisis management and strategic communications, for example, has often created expectations that employees have to work extended work hours and deal with an increased workload beyond what would have traditionally had. These unintended effects correlated with a high-level of time-based and strain-based work-life conflict that can cause ripple effects across an organization. Similarly, employees working remotely through social technology. struggle with additional expectations of always being “on”, which can cause burn out and lead an organization to have retention problems.
Managers whose organizations have switched to remote working with a heavy reliance on social technology during COVID-19 should be certain to manage workplace expectations during this change. What expectations are set about responding to correspondence after business hours, or on weekends? Are team-members confined to normal office hours, or is there an additional level of flexibility offered? Have important due dates or timelines been shifted due to the crisis? Questions like these should be answered and communicated across the workplace to ensure organizational alignment and protect from burn-out and workplace conflict.
Importance of Face-to-Face Meetings
While social technology allows people to work from anywhere, managers should be aware of cultural change that can occur in removing traditional face-to-face meetings and shared office spaces. While communicating over e-mail or SMS can be useful in some contexts, research indicates that face-to-face communication remains critical for efficient communication in businesses. Physical proximity plays into all of our senses, allowing for a richer recognition of verbal and non-verbal cues such as tone of voice and body gestures respectively. Similarly, face-to-face communication allows for information to be received instantaneously, and can expediate decision-making as a result.
In lieu of the ability to be together physically, managers should be diligent in ensuring face-to-face meetings continue to occur by utilizing video conferencing software. While many groan at the thought of additional meetings, and often celebrate when they are cancelled, ensuring routine video meetings can help overcome unwanted change in the organization culture and decision-making.
Lastly, it is important that managers be attentive to how employees are responding to the challenges of self-isolation and social distancing. Personal troubles, including risks to one’s health and wellness, can inevitably impact one’s ability to work efficiently, and a change in productivity can snowball into negative consequences across an entire organization.
Social distancing requirements exacerbates existing problems of loneliness and social isolation that exists in Canadian society; in fact, a 2019 study from the Angus Reid Institute indicates that nearly half of Canadians are either “very lonely” or “somewhat lonely” on a routine basis. It is well documented that loneliness, especially when continuous, can have severe effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. And, now with remote-working, informal communication processes within an organization – like small-talk between meetings and lunch-outings – will clearly be impacted.
Managers should be attentive to these challenges and may want to offer alternative, digital social gatherings or activities to replicate informal office communication channels. Digital happy-hours or coffee breaks may help team-members retain a sense of community in the midst of these strange, unprecedented times – and strengthen the organization as a result.
Devin Drover is a Canadian writer with an interest in communication theory, and social policy. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Memorial University, and most recently completed his MBA/JD from Dalhousie University to be awarded May 2020. You can connect with Devin on Twitter and LinkedIn:
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Dr. James Barker for introducing Devin Drover to CEGE Connection. We are thrilled to publish Devin’s research paper and advise that he has agreed to be a repeat contributor on CEGE Connection.