Does Technology Help or Hurt Business Communication?Does Technology Help or Hurt Business Communication?
The Family Business Institute’s Wayne Rivers explores the pros and cons of advanced technology and digital communications for contractors and their teams.
December 1, 2022
At a construction convention a few years ago, an acquaintance commented to my wife Lisa and me to the effect of, "Technology is the way of the future." Lisa challenged him: "Technology is the way of the present. The future is figuring out how we'll integrate the interpersonal into the digital age."
In other words, how can we utilize technology not only to increase efficiency but also to improve communication and engage more interpersonally?
As the owner or manager of a contracting company, the people you're hiring now grew up with technology—for some, it has been part of their lives from the day they were born. The rest of us have learned and adapted to technology as it has evolved, and now as leaders, we must learn how to integrate the technology expertise of the younger cohorts into our workplace cultures.
A significant aspect of this integration is how it will affect business communications: how we communicate with our employees, colleagues, subcontractors and clients.
Among the positives of adopting a technology-friendly approach in your business are the following:
1. Technology has eliminated the need for everyone to be in one place
As a result, constraints around being physically present in a single office or workplace are less onerous than they once were.
2. Technology has allowed for a much greater degree of immediacy
Today, almost everyone is available via cell phone or email nearly 24/7.
3. Technology options are plentiful and easy to implement
Through many years of trial and error, the developers of communications technology have removed much of the friction and confusion from their tools and the process as a whole.
4. Mobility has increased
You can be sitting on the jobsite in your truck and have just as much computing and communicating power at your fingertips as you have in your office.
However, there are challenges to relying too heavily on technology in your business:
1. It's easy to let technology pull you into a rabbit hole
It's especially easy to be interrupted, distracted or diverted from productive to unproductive tasks when you have tools that give such a wide breadth of access to anything on the Internet.
2. There is less intimacy in technological versus person-to-person communication
When the physical is missing, the nuances of gaze, posture and body language become much less apparent. It can be easier to misinterpret things you think you see or hear digitally versus in person.
3. Digital communication eliminates the opportunity for touch
I know this may sound strange, especially among contractors. But shaking hands, for example, improves trust. It's a fundamental, proven piece of business etiquette that establishes a bond. Just to be able to put your hand on someone's shoulder if they're angry or upset provides physical intimacy and empathy, and you simply can't do that digitally.
4. Technology allows us to mask or even hide our feelings much better, sometimes to our detriment
You can put on a happy face for a 10-minute video call, but if you're in the office all day or working on a jobsite with others for extended periods, it will become obvious more quickly that you're not quite yourself. People can pick up on visual and physical cues much better in person than they can digitally, which allows them to interact and offer whatever assistance they can.
A Harvard University study found that face-to-face requests generate 34 times more positive responses than electronic requests. Can you imagine that? If you could get 34 times more of anything in your business, you'd be begging for it!
Additionally, 67% of managers said that workers would be happier and more productive if senior leaders interacted face-to-face more often. Our brains need and expect these physical, nonverbal cues to communicate with others.
Wayne Rivers is the co-founder and president of the Family Business Institute. He has authored four books about families in business and has appeared on multiple nationally televised programs.
He serves as an expert panelist for The Wall Street Journal and has been quoted by Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, CFO, Family Business, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other trade, local, regional and national publications.
For over 15 years, Rivers has produced a blog and written hundreds of articles for various magazines and trade publications. He has held workshops and lectures for trade associations, prominent companies and well-respected universities. Along with being an Informa Markets Infrastructure & Construction contributor, he has also been honored as a Fellow of the Family Firm Institute.