The 'Other Side' of ICT: Less Empathy – Part 3

Posted on 20th December 2016


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I continue discussing possible drawbacks of over-reliance upon ICT, this time with a focus on the potential impact on teams. We begin with multiple generations in the workplace and then move to the challenges of virtual teams and their heavy reliance upon ICT.

The Price We Pay for Connectivity, Part 3

There is a growing challenge with the evolving demographic situation and the implications of so much generational diversity. The presence of the boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y in the workplace at the same time is by no means a bad thing, but it does have the potential to lead to misunderstandings around communication styles, mutual expectations, generational stereotypes, and questions of formality and etiquette at work. Such misunderstandings may create social distance, hamper teamwork, reduce productivity, and cause the organization to miss opportunities for collaboration, business success, and innovation. Another consideration is the risk that technology itself may become a divisive vehicle for generational cohorts as they isolate themselves, communicating primarily with others who are adept with the same tools and applications and excluding those who are not.

Virtual Teams and Trust
Leveraging ICT to create virtual teams can help firms reduce travel, relocation, real estate, and other business costs significantly. These economic arguments alone can make a solid case for using virtual teams, and at the strategic level, these teams may provide intriguing opportunities for companies to build their global presence, take advantage of outsourcing options, and leverage the skills and experience of key personnel who are unable or unwilling to travel. All of these points are clearly on the positive side of the commercial ledger, but there are also some particular challenges that can arise with virtual teams.

As might be expected, many of these challenges touch on the human elements of trust, empathy, and rapport within the team. Trust is key for facilitating communication across the team as well as for keeping people involved and motivated. The trust issue is often linked to the challenges of operating with impersonal electronic communications and is made more difficult by the fact that many virtual teammates never have the opportunity to meet face-to-face to establish a baseline rapport. Effective communication skills are particularly important for success in virtual teams, as team members often need to compensate for the lack of personal interaction with additional clarity, anticipation, and follow-through.

In my next post I will continue to explore the subtle challenges of trust in virtual teams by looking more closely at issues of language, culture and personality.

Good luck, and until next time…