Friday, 22 April 2016 13:09

Aussies say technology negatively impacts workplace relations


Face-to-face interaction in Australian workplaces is on the decline, according to new research, with the majority of Australian workers believing that technology and digitisation are having a major impact on their job.

According to the research by recruitment firm Randstad, 81% of Aussie workers say their job is being impacted by technology, with the impacts varying widely across roles, sectors and regions.

While many impacts resulting in positive change some impacts are negative, Randstad says, including that a key area of change feared by many Aussie workers is communication, and “more specifically the manner in which they interact with colleagues, clients and customers”.

Almost nine in ten (88%) Australian workers believe face-to-face meetings are the best way to interact with people at work, the research finds and Randstad says this sentiment is on par with our neighbours in New Zealand (85%) and even the global average (89%).

“Long lunches may be a thing of the past, but WIPs and coffee meetings certainly aren’t,” says Frank Ribuot, Randstad CEO Australia & New Zealand.

Despite Aussie workers favouring face-to-face meetings, almost two thirds (62%) point out their interactions with work contacts are less frequently face-to-face due to technology. This is a figure much higher than the global average of 46%, and even higher than the Kiwi counterparts at 57%.

According to Ribuot, these findings are revealing of Australian workplace culture and the challenges employers face when adopting technologies.

“Technology is undoubtedly having an increasing impact on the way we live, work and play. In the workplace, it forces us to ask the question each day of how, where and when to connect with people.

“It would be more time efficient to conference call a client than travel to their office for a face-to-face meeting. And perhaps it’s quicker to email a colleague than stop by their desk for a conversation. But are these interactions as effective as they could be? Would a more meaningful connection and better rapport be established in person?

“By its very nature, Australia is a social society. Randstad’s latest employer branding research, being released in May, has even seen pleasant working atmosphere become the second most important factor for people when choosing to work for an employer in 2016.

“Key to a pleasant working environment are interpersonal relationships, a sense of comradery with colleagues, and rapport with clients and customers – all things Aussie workers don’t want to lose, but will be affected if face-to-face interactions in the workplace continue to decline.”

While keeping up with technology is imperative in today’s competitive business environment, Ribuot says it is also important for leaders to ensure “digitisation doesn’t lead to the death of the ‘human touch’ in Australian offices”.

“In fact, 65% of Aussie workers already feel society is becoming less compassionate due to the growing use of technology,” Ribuot observes.

“There needs to be more to technological advancement in the workplace than simply investing in solutions and tools.

“Explaining the motivation for adoption of a new piece of technology and providing upfront training so that staff can make the most of the opportunity, needs to become a priority. Even if your company has adopted software specifically related to communication, such as Skype for Business, it’s vital that company policies still promote regular face-to-face interaction with colleagues and customers.”

According to Ribuot, it is a matter of finding the right balance between what he calls“ ‘tech’ and ‘touch’ in the workplace.

“Adopt technologies which will allow the business to become more efficient, deliver a better product or service faster or with a lower return on investment. My advice would be not to let those technologies come at the expense of real life, in person, face-to-face interactions.

“In general, implementation of technology and tools for technology sake does not enhance the working environment. Tools are only effective when the right environment, the right culture and the right support are in place. Only then can tools enhance the experience of employees."

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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