Monday, June 30, 2008

So what do you think?? Increase productivity or decrease human communication?

A wonderful Professional Organiser from the US, Alison Carter sent a link to an article about how Instant Messaging (IM) is helping increase productivity is some workplaces. Read it here!
mmmmmm.....This got me thinking. Are we dehumanising the workplace even more with a move to this type of communication? Don't get me wrong, I am all for increasing productivity, however as a person who works from a home office and often yearns for face to face communication, this seems weird to me. I can certainly see the use in some instances but for IM to become the norm in an office environment just seems like overkill and depersonalising.
Often we ask the questions, "What is wrong with society?, Why the increase in Crime?, Don't people care any more?". Some of this can be answered by looking at how we are becoming less and less personal in our interactions with each other.
Kids do not pick up the phone and call friends any more, they text each other. People no longer just stop by and say hi to their neighbours and friends as we are too busy. People seem to be forgetting how to relate on a face to face and conversational level.
So I worry that this type of "communicating" in a work environment will take us another step closer to not needing to address each other on a "real life, human" level.
Like I said I am all for increasing productivity, but at what cost? I would love to hear your thoughts.


John Trosko said...


Good topic.

I think every generation worries about the next. Remember when we were worried that families were going to fall apart when we stopped having dinner together? Or when the phone was invented and people no longer would write a letter? Or that movie theaters would go out of business when videos started cropping up? I think we just learn naturally how to adapt, and make the best out of a change in behavior. Instant messaging it NOT something new. We've had it for years and years. I've used IM at old jobs primarily for joke-telling in the mid to late 1990's and thought it was pretty useless. But I can see it happening now more for business purposes. Sometimes a quick IM will get a simple question answered, when a phone call may take more time. So there are advantages. I don't think the world is falling apart. But it will be interesting to see how this whole technology thing will turn out!

- John

Julie Bestry said...

Wendy, obviously everything can be taken to excess, but my sense of workplace communication is a bit different. When I worked in office environments (for 12 years), I felt like almost everyone (myself included) was always goofing off and chatting, and not giving 8 (or even 4) hours worth of work. And I'm an extrovert! I'm very much a chatty-cathy, but outside of a handful of meetings, I find that if someone in an office is standing around and talking, they're probably not accomplishing much. :-)

Having seen that article after Allison posted it, I got to thinking about the typical office setting with cubicles, no doors, no ceilings and no "cone of silence" to help you stay sane. In my previous life working in television, I was a manager and always had an office, but on the occasions I had to go to my assistant's cubicle to discuss work, I was very aware that our discussions were not only not private, but that even whispers would be distracting to anyone else cubiclized nearby and trying to concentrate.

I certainly imagine that if I'd had to sit out there, with no ceiling, half-walls and no door, considering that crickets outside drive me mad, that I'd have started a violence spree in my workplace if people chewed gum or breathed too loudly. Instant messaging seems like a great alternative to millions more office workers just moments away from an invitation to Death Row! Obviously, it would be silly to IM someone at the next desk over, but a quick reply via IM saves a lot of time over running hither and yon to locate the person and then spending 20 minutes chatting about their cat's surgery or their kid's recital.

I've had email since August 1985, and I have to say, I'd be far more curmudgeonly without digital interactions. Back then, I'd be very antsy when I schlepped all the way to someone's office and they were finishing up a phone call or in a chat and I had to IMing, you can continue to work while you wait for an email reply and be really, really productive. When I worked for someone else, I was just trying to be industrious. Nowadays, my time is my grocery and gas money, and working from my home office, I far prefer the productivity of an IM or email, eliminating phone tag altogether. This way, I only have to talk on the phone when I know the person is there and comfortably available. Plus, it's a lot easier to get rid of someone over IM (oops, there's the phone!) than someone standing in your office.

To me, at least, walking over to someone's office to talk is what you do when you're bored, hungry, blocked or too lazy to keep working. (I know, because when I was bored, hungry, blocked and too lazy to work on my own projects, I'd go to other people's offices and start organizing them! It was my first clue that there was a better world outside television for me.)

I see your concerns, Wendy, but humans are generally social. They'll meet in the break room to snack and outside the building to smoke, and after hours at a bar to eat bad appetizers, chatting all the while. But I really do believe that people are less likely to goof off at work (um, where they're being paid to WORK and not to be social) if they're communicating in writing rather than verbally.

And finally, on your grander issue, I think this is much more of a cultural as well as evolutionary thing. 200 years ago, you couldn't talk to anyone without having a formal introduction, so we've changed and evolved there. I'm sure 60 or 70 years ago, our parents and grandparents were bemoaning the use of the telephone as a depersonalizing device. On a cultural level, when I first moved to the South 20ish years ago, I was livid when I'd have to stand in the grocery line for what seemed like eons while the cashier and the customer would just chat--even if they didn't actually know one another. (You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't quite take New York out of the girl. This still bothers me, but at least I pretend to be patient now.)

And as for neighbors dropping in, well, I'm in my 40s, and never once did anyone ever drop over at our house (or we at someone else's) without calling first, as in our suburban square, "dropping in" was a major breach of etiquette. A friend might know my deepest darkest secret and my ATM PIN, but I still wouldn't show up for an unannounced "howdy"; conversely, I know people who would drop in on mere acquaintances and it would be welcome. So, while I'd worry about cross-cultural communication and societal norms, I'm not too worried we'll all become zombified, anti-social office drones. (Unless we chew our gum too loudly.)

Wendy Davie - Organising Guru said...

Loving these different opinions. I know I have taken it to the extreme, and looked at the worst case scenario. Being a bit of a devil's advocate I think.
It has been so long since I worked in an office environment. I guess coming from an ER Nursing background, using IM would not be so great in that scenario, LOL, potential for error and all that.
It has been years since I was in a group office working, boy I miss it too. I am also sure I would IM with the best of them as well if I were in the situation.

Lauren Halagarda said...

Hi Wendy,
I used IM extensively in a 'former life' and I agree with your points about personal communication, but I'd also like to address the productivity claim. IM'ing is like every other tool- It's only as productive as the user.

There were a ton of times when my coworkers were goofing off via IM; my boss was on IM all day- how could he be actually getting anything done?; And if you are in a meeting shouldn't you be present at the meeting and not IM'ing other coworkers?

I do agree that getting an immediate answer to your question makes you feel more productive but getting interrupted with questions from others all day makes you less productive. :)

Wendy Davie - Organising Guru said...

I am posting this on behalf of a friend who could not get the comment to work.

Great. I often think about this, as we are in advertising, and advertising is not the same as it was only a year ago. Life changes continually, and so has what people expect from other people is very different from generation to generation. Emails and mobile phones were not an everyday thing for people or companies only 10 years ago. So the need to adapt to that was fast, and now online is huge, where as it wasn’t so long ago. I spoke at a meeting this morning on communication, and how important it is to keep up the face to face personal things, even within a team of staff, not only the employee to the client, but also the employer to the employee and vice versa. Communication is huge, and in advertising we make sure we are clear in not only the message, but how it is delivered and PERSONAL always wins hands down!
Great work. interesting thoughts!
Phillippa Jacobs -

Scott Roewer said...

I had a preference for IM when I worked in the corporate world. Often there was a simple question that required a very short answer. But - with a phone call, there was the chitchat almost required with each call. If you were short and to the point, you might be considered rude. With an IM - it's considered quick and concise.

I also was on the OTHER side of the building from my team. So, the IM was perfect. I didn't have to walk over to see someone, we didn't add to the office noise with our phone or in person conversation, and I was able to IM with more then one person at once if necessary.

We had our in person face time during lunch or happy hour.