Posts Tagged technology
Communicating via technology is not only expected but required for most positions today. As our teams become more separated, not just via computers at our desks but even across the globe, we have to learn how to work and lead using technology. Integrating technology expands the work location options, where some jobs allow remote computer access as a means of off-site support, and some encourage a better work-life balance. Therefore, working from home is promoted 1-2 days per week, while others are 100% remote positions. I started looking at these full-time telecommuting jobs (100% remote), trying to detect any expectation adjustments between off- and on-site positions. The truth was there was no difference in the job descriptions except to be comfortable with remote work. However, for the people in charge, it means working and leading in a whole new way. Instead of standing in the room with someone and shaking his or her hand, interactions are completely non-physical. The question must be asked: How can we lead when we don’t actually meet? I believe we can still practice the core fundamentals of leadership face-to-face or otherwise.
First we have to go back and look at the requirement for a good remote team member before we can lead the team. I mentioned that remote work or telecommuting requires people who are comfortable with that type of environment. That means the person doing the job will be essentially on his or her own. She/he must be ready to learn new skills and processes (sometimes with little to no support) and keep motivated without someone literally standing over his or her shoulder. That second part is the harder part. For me working at home sometimes can be more of a distraction than a blessing. There are so many little to-dos that take my attention as well as the big focus-getters like family. Leaders need to look for qualities and characteristics that demonstrate strong personal motivation and self-starting for team members who will work remotely.
Leaders also have to be strong personal motivators, but with a remote team they have to figure out how to motivate others, too. The advancements in technology help in this area. Video communication tools like Microsoft Lync or Skype give the opportunity to put a face to the name. Also, voice communication gives people the chance to see/hear the conversation instead of completely relying on emails. As mentioned in many other blogs, emails have a way of being misconstrued or misunderstood. Bottom line, being a leader is just being a leader – the fundamentals do not change. Even though the team may not sit in the same room, it is possible to get people to communicate; it may just take a little more effort. Therein lies the key. Communication is critical no matter what the environment of the team. One last point: In my opinion, leaders’ expectations of performance and professionalism should not be sacrificed at the altar of technology.
The Professional Development Team
In some ways people today are no different in our “conditioned reflexes” than Pavlov’s dog. A quick recap: Ivan Pavlov studied psychology and famously researched learned behaviors on various subjects. One of his most well-known subjects was a dog who was fed at the same time as a bell (or other stimulus) was rung. The dog eventually equated the ringing of the bell with food and therefore began to salivate with anticipation of eating when a bell would ring. Equating this same sort of trained reflex to humans is easy with the cellular phone as our point of focus. If the phone rings, beeps, vibrates or even if it does none of these things, people are quick to grab a hold of their device and tune out the rest of the world. We are in servitude to technology.
The other day, a friend of mine said when we were discussing the integration of technology into our lives, he tells people, “This is for my convenience, not yours”. I really enjoyed that sentiment when he shared it with me, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. For the sake of brevity, I will focus this topic just on the communication aspect of cellular phones, not all the other fun stuff. The purpose of the cellular phone when it was developed for the general public was to aid in communication away from home. It is hard to remember a time when phones were mounted on kitchen walls, tethered with a curly cord that was forever tangled up. When you were not home, you just missed the phone call. I also know that there were many times, especially dinner time, when the phone was not to be touched. If someone called, they would just have to call back later. Now, if the cellular phone is not right next to the dinner plate, it is sitting in someone’s lap waiting to be picked up again at a moment’s notice or on a counter where there will be elbows to the face, knees to a groin and probably bloodshed to get over the table to reach the ringing phone.
Like Pavlov’s dog, we used to be in control of our own senses and reflexes around a ringing phone. It did not take long for us to react without thinking, as if it is a bodily need instead of a controlled action. Now we are almost in bondage to our cellular phones. Is it so hard to believe that if someone calls, we do NOT have to answer the phone, or if someone sends us a text message, we are not absolutely required to respond immediately? This is a hard concept because many people live their lives through the communication on their phone. People will literally sit right next to each other yet text instead of speak. Think about the impact that has on our ability to communicate – both sending and receiving. I believe we lose some of our ability and vocabulary when we believe “r u ok” is the correct way to ask how someone is doing; our friends and colleagues are no longer able to articulate their needs to us if all they get as a response is “k”. It is not just the words but the tone, inflection, facial expression or maybe just a simple hug that can say so much more than a 😉 (winky face).
Turning this around for a moment, think about those around us who see more of the tops of our heads, instead of our faces, as we endlessly stare at our phones either texting or talking. The implication is the person we are communicating with on our phone is more important to us than whoever is in the same room. That phone (and the other person) has our undivided attention; so I have a hard time understanding how can we maintain our “real” relationships at that point. I am not going to pretend I’ve never done it, but I know that after this point, I will be more aware of my reflex response to my phone. Cellular phones allow us to be more accessible but that does not equate to a substitution for in-person dialogue. My friend is right. The phone is for my convenience and maybe the convenience of my employers (if they pay for my phone). Otherwise, I am free to live life without being tied to a ring, bell or buzz.
CEO, The Professional Development Team
While reading an article in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek regarding Jim Messina and his efforts as a campaign manager, one message is crystal clear – technology must be embraced and used to get a particular viewpoint communicated to the masses. But what about individuals? While many people race to get the latest gadget, app or software, there are plenty of people out there who still resist placing an infinite amount of trust in technology. To be honest, Team Reluctance has a point. With security breaches almost daily, costing people and companies thousands if not millions of dollars, confidence can be shaken easily regarding personal information protection. Also, pushing to store business data and information in the cloud sounds like a great idea; however, anyone who has experienced an outage or a loss of data will attest that online storage may be like putting all of your eggs in one basket with potentially catastrophic results. Should Team Reluctance win out over Team Technology?
Nope. The fact you are reading this blog means technology has major advantages that should be valued. One of the biggest benefits is communication. Basically, in one generation, the world shrank. It was pointed out during a generational discussion I facilitated last week that the Millennial generation is global. No longer do we rely only on the daily newspaper or the evening news to understand the world around us – and I do mean world. Think about this: It is now commonplace to chat with someone thousands of miles away, something unheard of without high phone bills only twenty years ago. Texting, tweeting, Facebook posts, blogging, even email – all of these activities are different media in which to communicate. The messages we share are potentially destined to go around the entire world! This can be a key asset for businesses looking to spread their message. Whether it is a political campaign, advertising pitch or just a point of view, technology today gives organizations the opportunity to connect with people on a personal level faster and more in-depth than ever.
When it comes to smaller groups or tasks, though, leaders have to balance which side they are on – Team Reluctance or Team Technology. It really depends on the group they are leading and the goal in mind. If the group is savvy with communication tools like texting or Skype, leaders should explore those communication options in order to help their group be more efficient. The team may even feel held back if they are not able to use their available like texting! On the other hand, if the people who comprise the group are not ready to integrate that type of communication into their work habits, leaders should avoid that type of tool. When it comes to work habits, leaders may make group members uncomfortable or confused, which may slow down productivity if the leader pushes new technology into an unwelcoming environment. Bottom line: Leaders need to read their team and use the most efficient tools for that particular group. Leaders, therefore, must be technically competent in order to be on either side of the equation regarding technology integration.
CEO, The Professional Development Team