Are electronics keeping you at a distance from your employees?

We are unquestionably functioning during a time when electronics are a key element in our lives. Without them, communication, research and for some – livability – would be different. Think back to when you had to call someone, meet someone in person, or, (dare I say it?) write a letter to communicate. The local library was our hub for research. Phone books were on our shelves. If you wanted to know what a new restaurant was like, you had to pick up the paper for the review or ask a friend.

People born in the last 20 years or so have little understanding – if at all – of a world without computers and smartphones.

Today, if you want to send a message or document, it is easier to hit send than to type a letter and head to the post office. Sending text messages does not require forethought or spelling education.

Our work environment is not alone. Fax machines are dwindling and every workplace has a computer or device that allows us to communicate quickly. Efficiency is the goal.

The downside to all this efficiency is that people have lost the art of communication. “Phubbing” is a catch phrase used mostly for social settings. That is the act of using your phone in a social environment when you are with someone and therefore, snubbing them. Unfortunately, that new normal has crept into the workplace. Phubbing harms relationships in general and can demoralize the work environment.

Phubbing in the workplace

In short, phubbing is self-centered.

For example, it is not uncommon for people to respond to and send emails while sitting in a meeting. Because we are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time, when our focus is on our device, then whatever is said in that meeting during the time our attention is diverted means we are not mentally there. We miss something. To ignore a speaker or a colleague is sending the message that we deem his comments unimportant.

Or perhaps your employee is sitting in your office, expressing something he considers important. He might be facing a challenge and requests your feedback. Or you have asked him for an update on a project. Each time you glance at your phone, or pick it up to read and send a quick message, impresses upon the employee that whatever he is saying is not worthy of your time or attention.

When you communicate with your employees, how often do you do so in person versus through email? The more we interact with employees through our devices, the more the human connection fails. Sadly, human connection is often saved for giving negative feedback, contributing to the poor reputation of many in leadership roles.

How do you know if communication in your organization is poor?

What are the attitudes of your employees? Do you receive a welcome reception when they see you? Or do they try to look busy or head for the bathroom? Are they forthcoming when you ask them a direct question, or do their eyes and feet shift and their lips have trouble forming a succinct thought? Do you notice if your employees get along or does there seem to be clicks and grouchy stares at co-workers?

Are tasks completed on time and with a happy team effort? Or are projects usually late with no knowledge of who is in charge of what?

If you realize communication is lacking in your company, the first step to take is to analyze yourself and your behaviors. The way you communicate with your employees is how they will communicate with each other. If you are more tied to email and your phone, the lack of human interaction is destroying your workplace relationships. In other words, you “are out of touch.” If you do not talk with people, it will be difficult for you to understand what is really happening around you. You do not know what your employees are thinking, if their goals are on target with your company’s, or what challenges they are facing.

The morale of the workplace is an indicator of how strong or how weak the communication lines are.

What are the solutions?

If you have reviewed the situation and understand you have some communication weaknesses to overcome, then start tackling the situation immediately. Admit to yourself that there are areas that need to be adjusted, and then take action.

1. Turn off the device

The first task might seem simple, but people are addicted to devices as much as a cocaine addict is addicted to drugs. Turning off your device is a start, but putting it out of sight will help. This might take some time and practice, but do not give up. Put your device in a drawer or purse when someone is in your office or you are in a meeting. Write down specific times you plan to check your phone or email and schedule it, such as for 5 or 10 minutes. Our challenge is in thinking: “it will only take a minute,” which ultimately turns into 30.

But DO turn it off. This will not harm your phone, but it might sting you at first. We have voicemail for a reason – we are unavailable. The reason it is important to turn off your phone is because the buzz and vibration is a distraction. It is alerting us that someone else wants our attention and so our thoughts are on that for a few seconds, diverting our concentration away from someone else.

Make yourself more aware of the people around you.

2. Spend time with employees

If you want to know what is on your employees’ minds, you need to spend time with them. Assist them with a project, answer the phone with them, walk the floor and stop to chat with them. And then listen to them. When an employee is comfortable around a manager, that employee will speak up. You might not like what that employee says, but the point is to know what is on his mind.

People need to feel that they are being heard. When superiors take time with them, listen and take action, employees have a sense of value in the organization. The more they see that their ideas are implemented, the more ideas they will offer.

Spending time with your employees and working with them, means that barrier between employees and management is weakening. And that is your goal. Buildings are strengthened with a strong foundation and support beams, not dividing walls. That is how you want your organization to be.

Work on your foundation – your people.

3. Be human

There is much conversation about AI taking over jobs, and the electronic atmosphere is only fueling that fear. We know that robots can only do what they are programmed – by a human – to do. And robots cannot reason, feel, empathize or be flexible.

Be a leader in showing what human interaction can accomplish. Empathize with your employees. Work together as a team and communicate face-to-face more than via email.

People legitimately have to respond to calls. But there is a drawback to strolling through the office doors engaged in phone conversation. You are, in a sense, saying: “I’m here to be seen, physically, but not available for you, so I’m not actually here mentally.”

Before you walk through the office doors, put your phone away. As you step into the building, look at others, smile and say hello. If you ask people if they had a nice weekend or evening, listen to their response. Acknowledge it. When you are leaving at the end of the day, look at people and say good-night. Do not take your phone out of your pocket until you have left the building.

4. Change your habits

As mentioned earlier, schedule time for your phone and email use. When you need to use your phone, for example, close the door. This will give you some quiet time and allow you to focus on whom you are calling.

Or separate yourself from your team when you need to check your phone. Excuse yourself from the room and take it to your office or outside.

Just as we are trained to keep our personal life separate from our work, we need to separate our phone and email use from human interaction.

Electronic devices do not replace the human touch. They are simply a means to keep in touch and open the window for meaningful conversation.

Want more tips for workplace communication and boosting employee morale? How about a FREE gift to go along with that? “Creative Corporate Communications” is a monthly alert to help you build trust in your organization. Join the club here.