Want to Truly Connect in a Digital World? Be Authentic Online and Off

A VIEW FROM THE TOP

Do you remember a time when you weren’t tethered to your smartphone? When you made personal connections via face-to-face interaction, undistracted by the constant buzz of digital devices?

There’s little doubt that mobile technology has enabled us to work faster and more efficiently, giving employees the flexibility to work from anywhere, and companies the opportunity to expand their global networks.

But technology can also be cold and sterile, isolating and distracting. The online personas we share with our virtual connections, while necessary, sometimes depict our “best selves” and not our “real selves.” In order to truly connect, we need to find opportunities to share our authentic selves—both online and off.

How do we make authentic connections—achieving better collaboration with coworkers, fostering lasting partnerships with clients, and remaining relevant in a fast-paced, ever-changing business landscape—when we are compelled to always remain plugged in?

Value the Power of Human Connections

For starters, we should be placing more value on the power of human connections, and thoughtfully and carefully striking a balance between our online and offline worlds.

How do we achieve that in an “always-on” work environment? By putting more emphasis on the depth and breadth of our interactions: being fully present when connecting in person and being mindful that our online presence reflects our most authentic selves.

In the workplace, too, the notion of sacred spaces makes sense: Conversation among employees increases productivity.

Consider the breadth of the digital tools we need to remain broadly connected: email, text, LinkedIn, etc. We need to be opportunistic, but we should also collectively learn how to better scan and filter the digital noise and know when to engage in person.

Focusing on depth means being honest, undistracted and fully engaged—which is easier said than done—but you don’t need to go device-free to make meaningful connections. It’s about establishing boundaries. Consider a “time and place” approach.

M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle suggests carving out spaces at home or work that are device-free—“sacred spaces for the paired virtues of conversation and solitude,” she wrote in the New York Times recently.

“In the workplace, too, the notion of sacred spaces makes sense: Conversation among employees increases productivity,” says Turkle, a professor in the program in science, technology and society at M.I.T. and the author of “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.”

Generating and Sustaining Energy through Relationships

Drawing upon research from psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell’s book, “Connect,” University of Michigan Professor Jane Dutton argues in her book, “Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work,” that high-quality relationships generate and sustain energy, improving productivity.

“A five-minute conversation can make all the difference in the world if the parties participate actively. To make it work, you have to set aside what you’re doing, put down the memo you were reading, disengage from your laptop, abandon your daydream and bring your attention to bear upon the person you are with. Usually, when you do this, the other person (or people) will feel the energy and respond in kind, naturally,” Hallowell writes.

Remaining Agile: Adopting New Tools

The expectation that employees remain constantly connected is a 21st-century reality. It’s unrealistic to expect that we can fully disconnect. The startups that pioneered the sharing economy capitalized on that notion and disrupted markets by using customers’ innate connectedness to technology to make their lives more convenient.

But to remain relevant, companies, particularly service-oriented firms, need to be steadfast in adopting emerging technological tools without losing the personal connections that helped them build brand loyalty.

“Establishing deeper bonds through knowledge distribution, shared experience and authentic connection allows us to create long-lasting partnerships.”

Service industries need to have both the technological savvy of Airbnb and the personable, communication-based customer service skills of a local bed and breakfast. From individual workers to client and customer interactions, managing connectivity must be part of a comprehensive strategy.

“Establishing deeper bonds through knowledge distribution, shared experience and authentic connection allows us to be more productive and move faster for our clients, but perhaps most importantly, it helps us create long-lasting partnerships,” says Calvin Frese, chief executive officer of the Americas at CBRE.

“It’s about harnessing the power of connectivity to create distinct advantages that drive business outcomes for our clients.”

The foundation of that strategy must be built on authenticity, whether the interactions are in-person or online. So, to achieve productive connectivity, we need to be mindful, fully present and engaged.

In other words, put your phone down—even if only for a few minutes. And when you go digital, keep it real.

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