Case Studies

We need to talk: why face-to-face conversation is key for workplace culture

Equiem Marketing
January 11, 2018

Composer Libby Larsen once argued that “the great myth of our times is that technology is communication.” To what extent is she right?

Each technological innovation over the past few years has brought with it one less face-to-face interaction. Traditional networking was replaced with social media, and companies like Buffer have actually closed down their physical offices altogether, relying for the most part on technology to communicate (apart from the odd retreat).

But did the rise of technology herald a decline in communication? When innovations occur and are implemented in the work environment, they inherently have an effect on the community. And although it hasn’t all been negative, exploring how technology can be supported by real-life interactions is key to better communication in future:

The positive impacts of technology in the workplace

More than two thirds of the adult population get their news from social media. And technology has closed geographic boundaries, enabling immediate interactions between those who wouldn’t usually meet and informing societies like never before.

Similarly, in buildings and office environments, technology has the potential to truly connect the workforce in ways that water cooler chats couldn’t. What we lose in face-to-face interaction, we’re gaining in technological immediacy and efficiency.

Virtual communication is still communication

Especially in busy office environments, interacting with immediacy, ease and efficiency via online platforms allows for a level of flexibility and control that physical encounters can’t provide.

Picture this: ensuring that all community members are up-to-date with building developments, connecting tenants with off-site landlords, and helping keep remote workers in the loop has always been tricky. However, recent technologies and online networks like Equiem have helped to open up the lines of discussion in the building community, and cloud-based productivity softwares are helping cultivate workplace cultures regardless of geographies.

It’s not just internal: through innovative property technologies and social media, employees can network with the wider community of tenants too. This leads to potential inter-office collaborations and relationships, as well as a closer-knit building community – the perfect ingredients for improving workplace culture.

In addition, almost half of the world’s online workforce cited that the internet, mobile phones and email have improved their productivity. More than a third claimed that technology has lengthened their work hours, enabled increased flexibility and expanded the number of people outside their immediate colleagues that they can regularly communicate with. Again, these changes are all essential for a diverse, integrated and productive workplace culture.

But productivity also hinges on real communication

An old study on workplace behaviour surfaced some interesting insights: water cooler conversations in the workplace increase productivity by 10-15%. Those seemingly pointless hallway connections lead to deeper discussions and opportunities for collaboration, problem-solving and teamwork.

Today, with this in mind, even the world’s biggest tech corporations are redesigning their workplaces to facilitate real-world encounters. Google’s headquarters incorporate purposeful areas where diverse employees can bump into each other, while IBM’s Laura Haas notes that “we want to bring people together in a rich enough environment they want to play in, and then create serendipity by leveraging the connections in the room, the connections in the data, and our ability to see what users are doing… We call it cultivating ‘strategic serendipity.’ It’s those ‘A-ha!’ moments you have… around the water cooler.”

Moreover, intra-workplace interactions can foster a cohesive culture amongst building inhabitants. Interpersonal relations, at a basic level, boost morale, happiness and fellowship amongst employees – something that technological interaction lacks. And a wider circle of contacts/colleagues has been proven to boost productivity by up to 4%. The more people you meet, the more chances for collaboration, help and friendship there are.

What’s the ideal combination?

If you’re investing in innovative communication technologies whilst also fostering interpersonal relationships amongst tenants and employees, you’ll be ticking all the right boxes on both sides of the balance.

That’s why innovative technologies like Equiem also offer on-site services, events and activations to balance out their virtual services. Through these interactions, tenants can have their queries answered, concerns heard, and get help with cumbersome tasks that are interfering with their productivity – for example, getting coffee delivered direct to their desk.

Activations and events – such as sports screening rooms, free yoga classes or building tours – are alternative spaces where those water cooler conversations can organically occur, in addition to the ability to connect over the technological platform.

Yes - if we want to dispel the myth that tech has destroyed communication, we need to take a step back and look at how it has enhanced communication - and how we can continue combining these innovations with onsite services on the road to improving workplace culture.

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