Much has been said about the overuse of technology in the public sphere. Parents are anxious about teenagers being addicted to screens and adults are concerned about the links between technology and social isolation. A March 2018 Harris Poll found that 52% of Americans think technology will make the world less harmonious. Not enough conversations are being had about this plight in the workplace and in his latest book, “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation,” Millennial career and future workplace expert, Dan Schawbel, tackles just that. With data-driven insights, “Back to Human” explores technology dependency in the workplace, the impact of declining human connections in the corporate world and the role of leaders in creating connections in a digital age of isolation.
For the book, Schawbel conducted a global research study in partnership with Virgin Pulse of over 2,000 managers and employees from 10 different countries. Interviews were also conducted with 100 leaders from top companies including Facebook, Google, HBO, Starbucks, General Mills, GE, Nike, American Express, Four Seasons, Walmart, Best Buy, Unilever, TIME, LinkedIn, and The U.S. Air Force.
One of the most interesting finds from the study was the impact of remote work. While people who work from home enjoy the flexibility of their work schedule, having full control of their day and not being confined to a desk or office, Schawbel’s research with Virgin found that employees who work remotely are less likely to want a long-term career at their companies. Only 5% of remote workers always or very often see themselves working at their company for their entire career compared to 28% who never work remote.
“Working remote has an impact on loyalty and team and organizational commitment,” Schawbel told The Harris Poll.
Another aspect of our excessive dependence on technology in the workplace was seen among managers. “Too many leaders use technology as a crutch instead of a bridge to really facilitating relationships and connections among teammates,” Schawbel said.
“The devices in those companies are intentionally making us addictive because that’s the business model and as a result a leader will much rather text someone instead of actually calling them or meeting them face to face even if they are a foot away and that’s a big problem,” he added. “In the study we found that the biggest technology in the way of human contact is email.” The research showed that employees increasingly depend on technology tools to communicate with their teammates, including email (45%), text messaging (15%) and instant messaging (12%). Of those who cited email, over 40% said they feel lonely always or very often, are not engaged and have a high need for social connection.
A recent study in the Harvard Business Review by two social psychologists stresses the importance of communicating in person because we’re less persuasive than we think over email. According to the research, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email. Schawbel expounded on the data: “It’s really about understanding. You can go back and forth with emails and people might take what you’re saying the wrong way and that creates frustration and argument and it delays the message, delays productivity.”
Companies are beginning to notice the negative consequences of a less-human and excessively tech-reliant workplace and some are taking action. “Apple is investing billions of dollars in creating a new headquarters that 12,000 employees can work in and they’re investing so much in their office space because they know that real innovation and creativity comes from the conversations that are happening in the hallways,” Schawbel said.
One of Schawbel’s recommendations for combatting growing isolation in the workplace is organizing more social events such as company retreats, and at these gatherings employees should put their devices away and focus on bonding with co-workers in real life.
“We have to use technology as a bridge to human connection instead of a barrier,” he said. “Leaders need to give people space to connect because that’s how they are going to be able to bring their best self into the workplace and be as productive as possible.”
According to Schawbel, “Back to Human” ultimately serves as a reminder to be conscious of how we’re using technology, when and where we’re using it and being more thoughtful around it. “Humanity matters in the age of technology,” he said.
In addition to the research, Schawbel’s book features a proprietary academic assessment called “The Work Connectivity Index,” which measures the strength of team relationships, and it offers exercises, examples, activities and advice for individuals and teams to improve their leaderships skills and increase personal productivity in order to be more collaborative and fulfilled at work.
You can see other key findings from the study here.