You’ve noticed, of course, that many employees are working from home these days. These virtual employees avoid long commutes and the company saves money on office space. This trend accelerated over the past few years. It seems everybody wants to work from home.
As I wrote several years ago, companies are creating online communities where employees can pull in the information they need when they want it and engage in conversations with other employees.
But these communities are no longer working so well. The “wired” water cooler where employees gather for conference calls or video get-togethers isn’t the same as rubbing shoulders with someone at the actual office water cooler and popping into a colleague’s office to shoot the breeze.
The Return of Face Time
This was brought to my attention today by a friend who works virtually from home, only visiting the office a couple of times a month. He’s in a service business where you are judged not only by your competency but your billable hours.
He needs more billable time but he’s fallen off the radar screen. People don’t see him at the water cooler or in the cafeteria, so out of sight out of mind. His manager suggested that he start coming into the office two days a week to engage with managers of other profit centers to generate more billable time.
But it isn’t only employees who are losing touch. Senior executives who are always on the road don’t have time to interact with their subordinates.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, traveling frequently for work can leave employees without adequate feedback or a boss wondering whether you manage well, suggests Bruce Tulgan, author and chief executive of Rainmaker Thinking Inc., a management research and training firm. He says, “You have to be there to problem-solve.”
Ramesh Tainwala, CEO of luggage maker Samsonite, was quoted in the same article, “A conference call cannot substitute for face-to-face interactions. When we meet in person, we almost hear each other’s thoughts.”
Social Media Face Time
It’s no secret why Apple calls its video calling service “FaceTime.” Google+ Hangouts and Skype are also seeing increasing usage. Skype has the advantage, of course, of being available for anyone to use, whereas FaceTime requires using Apple products and you need to have a Google+ account to use Hangouts.
I had such a good time last night on an hour-long call with my nephew and his partner in Los Angeles. I’m in New York so a physical meeting wasn’t possible. FaceTime was a great substitute for being in the same room together.
But here’s the thing. I couldn’t give him a hug good night. I couldn’t reach out to pat him on the shoulder. We couldn’t almost “hear each other’s” thoughts.
Finally, it’s just plain lonely to work virtually. I’m an entrepreneur who works alone so I know the feeling. When I was still in the corporate world, I loved the interaction with other people in the office. We’d often go to lunch together – you know, get out of the office, talk about personal things and really get to know each other as people.
Human interaction develops trust. You’re willing to put your life in the hands of someone you can look in the eye, who’s shown his vulnerable side, who has your back.
So while company intranets are essential in a global business world, we’ve lost something. And many people are feeling it. Not only in lost personal contact, but losing the connections in the office that can advance your career.