WFH is stealing the joy of workplace chit-chats

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When you are conversing face-to-face, your undivided attention full of empathy builds a connect that is impossible over a virtual communication

By Ritu Kant Ojha

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Published: Sun 11 Oct 2020, 6:43 AM

Last updated: Sun 11 Oct 2020, 8:45 AM

Businesses are grappling with changes in employee behaviour including shorter attention spans, avoiding dialogue, mobile addiction, and influence of modern social-system built on likes and shares that prioritises shallowness over depth. The trend accelerated with smartphone proliferation over the years. Several cutting-edge research shows majority of young hires coming out of the best business schools, while having done well academically, struggle with workplace conventions and conversations. They have a hard-time showing empathy and feel constrained understanding the perspectives of their colleagues, or even clients. Distractions of emails and social media notifications make it quite hard for younger employees to give undivided attention. And now with work from home becoming a norm, the malaise is extended across ages and hierarchies.
In a 2018 study, Microsoft asked 14,000 people in seven countries to name the form of communication that makes them happiest. In-person meetings ranked number one over email, chat, or texting across all generations. Chat applications, despite being loaded with hundreds of GIFs and beautiful emojis, will never replace an in-person conversation. It is an irony of the times we are living-in wherein we want to stay connected with the entire world but ignore those right next to us. The flight from conversations might sound amusing, but is a sad reality in today's working place environment.
Whether you wish birthday, congratulate, express grief, jump with joy, show sadness or display optimism, it will be far more effective than tonnes of emojis if it is face-to-face. Some practical examples could be: empathetic in-person listening to client's views might swing his or her decision in your favour; the genuine connections made through conversations between team members can address host of people-engagement challenges faced by HR of today; your positive body-language in team meetings could prove greater commitment and therefore would deepen trust resulting in better outcomes; and your boss discussing missed targets over a cup of coffee instead of an stinker email could be significantly more impactful. Team cohesion is a perpetual problem leaders grapple with. Conversations bring the peer group closer, form solidarity, create environment of interpersonal support and thereby help achieve the overall organisational goals. Especially so if you are a business leader looking to build a values-driven organisation, creating opportunities for meaningful conversations vertically and horizontally across different teams could be immensely useful.
When you are conversing face-to-face, your undivided attention full of empathy builds a connect that is impossible over a virtual communication. Also because simultaneously you can virtually chat with many people or send hundreds of emails in a matter of minutes. While they serve the purpose of easing communication, the problem begins when you start shifting more and more towards virtual conversation and unknowingly form the habit of avoiding natural in-person interactions.
As you go gaga over work-from-home and celebrate the new-found reason to avoid face-to-face conversations, spend sometime doing an honest assessment of your workplace relationships. You might be surprised at how many of them can be improved just through a real connect. A normal conversation between two humans where the non-verbal cues play a more important role than the actual words that you speak. Remember that while we are social creatures, we are also creatures of habit. And maybe it is time to change some. Or at least one!
Ritu Kant Ojha is an author, columnist & CEO, Proact

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