How digital detachment corrodes workplace culture

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We take it for granted now, but digital and mobile technologies have dramatically transformed – and even redefined – the workplace.

No longer is it assumed that the vast majority of employees must gather at a physical headquarters or satellite office to do their jobs. Today’s enterprise employees increasingly are able to be productive from any location, at any time, and with any digital device.

Further, they can use a growing number of technologies – email, text, instant messaging, emojis, videoconferencing, and more – to communicate with colleagues and collaborate with team members across the world or on the other side of their cubicle wall.

But does this digital liberation come at a cost? Karen Gately thinks so. A leadership and people management specialist based in Australia, Gately tells Human Resources Director writer Nicola Middlemiss that digital technology is a poor substitute for face-to-face communication.

“I think technology is one of the biggest obstacles to building healthy relationships,” Gately tells Middlemiss. “People become keyboard warriors and we just sit at our desks and have arguments and try and resolve problems through technology.”

This reliance on digital tools to the exclusion of actual human interaction can breed a dangerous sense of detachment among some employees, she adds.

“People will often say things that they otherwise wouldn’t and they’ll say things in ways that they might not choose to say them if they were actually sitting in front of the person having the interaction,” Gately says.

Anyone who has ever regretfully fired off a tersely worded email to a remote colleague, or made an unintentionally offensive comment in a discussion group, knows this is true. But what to do? We can’t go back to the prehistoric days before smartphones, wi-fi, and Skype. The world – and the workplace – is thus ever mobile, for good or bad.

There are no perfect answers, but if enterprises want employees to feel a greater connection to their jobs and colleagues – no matter where they are located – it’s imperative that they cultivate a collective sense of mission.

Sure, some workers just want the paycheck, but many others – particularly younger workers – want jobs that align with their values and provide a clear sense of purpose. They want a reason to wake up excited every day, whether they commute to an office or simply walk to a laptop in their spare bedroom.

It’s up to enterprise leaders and decision makers to define and communicate not just a strategy, but a mission and vision that extends beyond mundane business goals and in a way that resonates with employees, wherever they may be located. That’s how you overcome the scourge of digital detachment.

Does your organization have a strong collective sense of mission and purpose?

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