Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Loss of Personal Contact in the Workplace

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In the past 15 years the way office work is accomplished has been reformed. Technological advancements enable instant communication between distant points. What is taken for granted today was unimaginable twenty years ago. With new ideas presented daily and developments on existing technologies increasing quality it is easy for people to slip into the habit of virtually no face to face contact except with those who work physically near them. These new developments have many advantages. Among them are better efficiency, cheaper communication and more contact between parties. With such benefits one may think it best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and just accept changes without question. Others object that the loss of personal contact means less not more control for managers as it is easier to mislead with today’s technological approach than yesterday’s face to face one. Both parties are right to a degree, as both means of interaction have their own advantages and disadvantages. The deciding factor over which form is better is different in each scenario as it depends which elements one is looking for to get out of said interaction.

The benefits of multiple communication options are widely accepted today. Many workplaces fund cell phones and mobile internet to enable employees to be in constant contact with work if necessary. At the same time e-mail and facsimile transmissions are considered vital office resources. Such assets save time by allowing faster access to information that may be required to complete tasks. This can reduce stress on an employee as it enables him or her to finish assignments faster, and benefits the organization he or she works for by improving productivity. The more subtle disadvantages of technology are clear when one examines the volume of work received through such media when compared to the volume that came through more traditional methods in the past. The amount of e-mail received in the average worker’s inbox daily is unthinkable when one translates that into hard copy. Such mountains of paper were not delivered daily to workers prior to the internet age. Clearly the ease of sending and receiving information through buttons has gone to some people’s heads. Most e-mail users have had to learn to filter the relevant information from the useless at an unprecedented level. Due to this stress levels frequently increase despite the actual work going faster. As well, the ability to be in constant contact with work may cause more stress if a person feels compelled or is expected to check in outside of what is considered normal work times. Another disadvantage of the information age is the ease unscrupulous workers have in misleading employers, or less frequently the reverse. With call forwarding to cell phones and synchronization of work and laptop computers possible people find it easier than ever to play truant to work. It requires ever more vigilant management techniques to keep such people in line.

With the recognized disadvantages evident it becomes clear why some organizations are supporting a return to the traditional face to face meeting. While not doing away with communication technology certain situations are acknowledged to need a personal touch. Examples of such situations frequently include interviews, firings and important decisions. The reasons for direct interaction are varied. On some occasions it is best to have an accurate reading of people’s reaction to news or a discussion. Such intuitive necessity is much easier to achieve in person where body language and facial expressions give a lot of hints that would be missed over the telephone. On other occasions it is considered impolite or disrespectful to convey information in any way other than directly. A common example would be when an employee is being terminated. Yet another reason for using the most direct form of communication deals more with personal emotions than anything else. Employees who feel loyalty to their jobs and company are more likely to perform to the best of their abilities. If all interaction between an employee and his or her work is electronic said loyalty is more likely to dissipate than if the employee has frequent and positive contact with the people around and above him or her.

Overall offices have benefited from a wider range in choice for communication options. The ones who have benefited the most from technological advancement are those who were selective with their use of it. By accepting that not every situation calls for the most modern choice possible an employee is able to save time when needed while maintaining quality of service where necessary. Both personal and electronic communications have significant advantages over the other. For this reason neither is better in general, yet one is always better than the other in specific circumstances.

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