I read with horror an article from Thomson Brookers that quoted the Chief Technology Officer of MYOB predicting that in 25 years the work colleague you chat to at the water cooler (if those things exist and human beings haven’t been fitted with automatic hydration devices) might be a hologram, our daily coffee fix maybe delivered by drones and that the plumber (if there needs to be such a person then) that turns up to fix your leak maybe a robot!
WTF? Now, I am a tech convert having spent most of 25 of my 35 years in the workforce avoiding typewriters, telexes, emails and computers by skilfully outsourcing that to very able executive assistants. Indeed I admit that in my corporate life the screen on my desk was for show, to occasionally check on my stock prices and act as a mirror to comb my hair (Yes! Yes! in the days I did have some). But the thought of this plain terrifies me in terms of the impact it will have in the workplace.
This prediction may well be accurate. If you cast your mind back 25 years to 1990 we had just emerged out of the telex age, the internet was in its infancy with fairly low uptake, cell phones were as big as a brick, duplicating machines were out and photocopiers were coming in and people actually talked in the workplace. Fast forward those years and think how communication in the workplace changed.
Observe the way even our children socially interact. If we were in an emotional relationship and were going to be ‘dropped’ or planning to ‘drop’ a partner this was normally done face to face or by a real conversation over the phone. Now it is often done by slightly less courageous ways such as by text, email, or change of relationship status on FB.
I have been an avid fan of ensuring good healthy work relationships in the work place being best affected through face to face. It encourages openness, honesty and integrity. I have also encouraged companies to adopt email protocols that avoid the proliferation of ‘CCing’ and ban ‘BCCing’. That practice avoids someone outsourcing responsibility and accountability to someone else and, lets be honest, can be just lazy.
The introduction of new technology has definitely seen some amazing advantages creating shared and collaborative workplaces but the down side is that the art of conversation conducted by face to face relationships is dying and with parts of the unique team culture that existed in workplaces 25 years ago.
In my view we need to keep all this in balance and whilst encouraging human touch elements in our communication channels still be open to virtual mechanisms to interact.
I guess the advantage is that there would be no room for the ‘Sutton’ effect ….you can’t hug a hologram!!
by Paul Bell