is digitisation leading to death of the human touch at work?

10/05/2016 13:58:33

Almost two-thirds of Australian workers believe technology is negatively impacting their face-to-face time with work contacts.

Face-to-face interaction in Australian workplaces is on the decline, according to the latest research from HR and recruitment specialists Randstad. The Randstad Workmonitor Report (Wave 1 2016) found the majority of Australian workers (81%) believe technology and digitisation are having a major impact on their job.

These impacts vary widely across roles, sectors and regions. While many result in positive change, some impacts are negative. Randstad’s new findings reveal a key area of change feared by many Aussie workers is communication, and more specifically the manner in which they interact with colleagues, clients and customers.

Almost nine in ten (88%) Australian workers believe face-to-face meetings are the best way to interact with people at work. This sentiment is on par with our neighbours in New Zealand (85%) and even the global average (89%). Long lunches may be a thing of the past, but WIPs and coffee meetings certainly aren’t.

Yet, almost two thirds (62%) of Aussies point out their interactions with work contacts are less frequently face-to-face due to technology. This is a figure much higher than the global average of 46%, and even of our Kiwi counterparts at 57%.

These findings are revealing of Australian workplace culture and the challenges employers face when adopting technologies. Technology is undoubtedly having an increasing impact on the way we live, work and play. In the workplace, it forces us to ask the question each day of how, where and when to connect with people.

It would be more time efficient to conference call a client than travel to their office for a face-to-face meeting. And perhaps it’s quicker to email a colleague than stop by their desk for a conversation. But are these interactions as effective as they could be? Would a more meaningful connection and better rapport be established in person?

By its very nature, Australia is a social society. Randstad’s latest employer branding research, being released in May, has even seen pleasant working atmosphere become the second most important factor for people when choosing to work for an employer in 2016.

Key to a pleasant working environment are interpersonal relationships, a sense of comradery with colleagues, and rapport with clients and customers – all things Aussie workers don’t want to lose, but will be affected if face-to-face interactions in the workplace continue to decline.

While keeping up with technology is imperative in today’s competitive business environment, it is also important for leaders to ensure digitisation doesn’t lead to the death of the ‘human touch’ in Australian offices. In fact, 65% of Aussie workers already feel society is becoming less compassionate due to the growing use of technology.

There needs to be more to technological advancement in the workplace than simply investing in solutions and tools.

Explaining the motivation for adoption of a new piece of technology and providing upfront training so that staff can make the most of the opportunity, needs to become a priority. Even if your company has adopted software specifically related to communication, such as Skype for Business, it’s vital that company policies still promote regular face-to-face interaction with colleagues and customers.

It is a matter of finding the right balance between ‘tech’ and ‘touch’ in the workplace. Adopt technologies which will allow the business to become more efficient, deliver a better product or service faster or with a lower return on investment. My advice would be not to let those technologies come at the expense of real life, in person, face-to-face interactions.

In general, implementation of technology and tools for technology sake does not enhance the working environment. Tools are only effective when the right environment, the right culture and the right support are in place. Only then can tools enhance the experience of employees.

For detailed insights into all 34 countries contributing to the quarterly Randstad Workmonitor and Mobility Index.

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The quarterly Randstad Workmonitor
The Randstad Workmonitor & Mobility Index is published quarterly, covering 34 countries around the world, making both local and global trends in jobseeker confidence and mobility visible over time. The quantitative study is conducted via an online questionnaire among a population aged 18-65, working a minimum of 24 hours a week in a paid job (not self-employed). The minimal sample size is 400 interviews per country, using Survey Sampling International. Research for the 1st wave of 2016 was conducted in January 2016.