The 2011 Office – It's Too Quiet, We Need to Talk More

Herb reflects on ten years of being a supply chain consultant, and notes a few differences:
– The office is much quieter today than 10 years ago.
– The phone doesn’t ring anymore – email has replaced phone calls, and some people route their phone straight to voice mail.
– There are fewer people doing more work – so the opportunity to chat / converse is less
– The Internet has the answer – so people aren’t asking their neighbours

Herb continues with the comment that too much email is a bad thing, and suggests that more dialogue would be a good thing.

But the supply chain also relies on communication flowing seamlessly from end-to-end and, in this writer’s opinion, e-mail is not always the best way to accomplish this. My contention is that we have lost something in the process. Today’s most successful supply chains are based in part on collaborative relationships, partnerships, etc. Does an e-mail sent to 10 different people in two different companies support a collaborative effort? Would a live discussion add more value? Part of our rationale is that the global nature of many supply chains makes face-to-face communication impractical, but I think we would all benefit from more dialogue with each other and fewer e-mails in our respective in-boxes.

Finally, he cites research from SGC Consulting about the contours of communication in the office, which had a similar finding: too many emails, too much of the time, and not enough face-to-face communication.

Bottom line – Electronic communication certainly serves a purpose in our organizational life. And yet, we have accepted the fact that there are limits, and that we would be more effective without the overuse of these electronic devices. But we are unwilling, uninterested, or unable to break the cycle of our dependence.

New research show the increase of stress and anxiety from always being “plugged in” and waiting for the next message, so we can respond immediately (even though an immediate response may not be necessary). There are lots of questions, lots of thoughts on why. But for now, our offices are too QUIET to talk about it!

My Comments
1. Sounds like we are becoming email-bots, waiting for the next email-fix (or Twitter-fix). A deep conversation, about purpose and shared approach, will do much more for your organization than keeping up with email today. Let it slide … and start talking.

2. Make your office a bit more noisy today. Give up on the email thread with your next-door neighbour, and engage them in conversation.

3. A few weeks ago, I wrote in my journal: “I will stop relying on email to set up meetings.” Be a contrarian – do things differently, and see what happens. If everyone’s doing it, it’s time for you to do something different.

4. Let’s talk more – by phone, over coffee, face-to-face, via Skype video, using Cisco TelePresence, etc. Effective conversation is a learned skill; too much emailing and we’ll lose the ability to do so.

5. Turn the TV off when you get home tonight, and instead of dinner in front of the box, sit at the table with your family … and talk. About stuff.

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