My blog posts this week are adapted from my new book, Can You Hear Me?, to be published by Harvard this month.  Please consider clicking on the link and purchasing a copy.  I provide this blog as a free resource to people who care about public speaking and communications, and selling books helps to keep this blog going.  In this first part, I discuss what current research is telling us about the uses of virtual connection in the workplace, specifically through social media. 

In the virtual world, trust is more fragile and human connections are more brittle than they are in the face-to-face world.  For every road warrior who loves managing her life with a couple of gadgets from the airport, there are thousands of workers who feel less motivated to do their best, customers who are ready to jump to a rival brand, and virtual teams that are barely getting the job done.  That’s because their commitment to the work, the product, or the project is less profound and deep than it would be if there were a face-to-face relationship at stake.

Why do humans feel the lack of that kind of connection and commitment so deeply, and respond with less than their full humanity? How can you strengthen online human connections – if you can?  And what should you be thinking about when you communicate virtually?  Let’s explore.

When the first dot-com bubble was expanding, and everyone was trying to figure out how the Internet was going to change the world, no one foresaw the advent of social media in the way that it has exploded in the last decade.  Amazon was still just a bookstore, Facebook wasn’t even born yet, and laptops required extra batteries, large briefcases, and an absurd amount of cords and plugs to keep them going.  It was a primitive time.

The attitude of companies was still that top-down IT was the way to go.  In other words, don’t let workers buy their own tech, because we’ll have to help them make it all work, it won’t be compatible, and they’ll blame us for everything that goes wrong.

The ubiquitous mobile phone and its apps, and the development of social media changed all that.  Today, the majority of companies use social networking tools to connect their employees.  From policing to playing along in a decade – the change in attitude has been huge and profound.

And the research shows that, perhaps surprisingly, paying attention to virtual social connections at work benefits workers.  Consultants who use social networks have more billable hours.  Employees who chat online are less likely to be laid off in recessions.

So rather than think of social media as a waste of time at work – which is the way it is referred to in the online global conversation almost exclusively – it might make more sense to see it as the virtual equivalent of schmoozing, which has always been good for your career.

And think about those virtual teams.  The use of social media as part of your communications with colleagues might be a signal of efforts to build strong connections that help a team get more work done. In short, water-cooler chat, whether it takes place in the physical or the virtual world, may be an indicator, at least, of the desire for strong collaborative relationships on a team.  And it may lead to better work results, better connections with customers, and better relationships with your colleagues.




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