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Virtual and Project Management Expert: Writer, Speaker, Educator. Author of Managing Without Walls and Fundamentals of Technology Management. President of Garton Consulting Group.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Is Virtual Communication Driving You To Distraction?

Do you find yourself constantly distracted by your virtual communication devices and unable to resist the urge to check for messages? If the answer is “yes”, you are not alone. This is an affliction affecting 99.9% of teenagers and, more recently, an alarming number of adults.

Teenagers appear to have nothing better to do 90% of the time, than to obsess over the minutiae of everyday events in the lives of their fellow teenagers.  What is of great concern is the number of adult professionals who appear to be suffering from a similar affliction and those numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. Symptoms include, obsessively checking for mobile messages and an inability to resist the urge to read and respond immediately, no matter how trivial or unimportant the issue. 

I have been on the receiving end of this addictive and anti-social behavior on numerous occasions in the last few weeks. One that particularly stands out in my mind is a breakfast meeting organized by one of my friends. She is also a business owner and wanted to introduce me to another friend who was about to embark upon a new business venture.  I was interested to meet him and was looking forward to some lively conversation.  I was sadly disappointed. He spent the entire breakfast reading and responding to emails and texts on his mobile and hardly said a word.  I left the breakfast meeting with a very strong first impression of this individual: Unprofessional, lacking social and communication skills, inability to focus, disrespectful and immature. Did I ask for his contact information? No.  Would I recommend his business to anyone? No.  The saddest thing about this whole situation is that if I had never met him, and was basing my opinion of him on the word of my friend. I would have considered him to be professional and reliable.  I would have been inclined to recommend him to others because I trust my friend’s opinion.  His lack of etiquette and social skills demonstrated at our meeting ruined his reputation – in my eyes.
If you are addicted to virtual communication, do you realize the harm you are doing to your reputation – both professionally and socially?  Your addiction to mobile communications does not make you look important or indispensible to your peers. It makes you look like an adult who is behaving like a teenager.  Are you afraid that you will miss out on something if you don’t check for messages every 2 minutes?   Here is something you might not have figured out yet - you ARE missing out on something. You are missing out on everything that is going on around you. You are missing out on business and social interactions. You are ignoring those people who want to spend time with you.  Over time you will receive fewer professional and social invitations.  Why would someone invite you to a meeting or to a dinner if they know you will not participate or interact with anyone else in the room?  Virtual tools should enhance our daily lives, not replace them.

I believe the problem is so bad in the corporate world that companies are losing money every single day because of this lack of attention and focus.  If your workforce is constantly distracted, unable to concentrate on their work, lacking effective communication skills, and not able to distinguish between work and social time – costly mistakes are inevitable.  Remember, if your team members are addicted to checking work emails and texts, they are likely addicted to checking their personal email and texts too, which means they might not be getting much work done!

A workforce addicted to virtual communication is detrimental to business success; yet most companies don’t recognize this risk or take steps to mitigate it.

A few key changes to your company’s guidelines and processes could make a huge difference in your organization.  Updating usage guidelines for company-issued smartphones, for example, can make meetings (and work hours) more effective. Train your team members on how to run effective meetings. Teach them the importance of requesting that company-issued and personal phones (not in use for calling into the meeting) are switched off so attendees are not distracted. Offer training to your employees on meeting attendee responsibilities. Whether they are attending a meeting in person or virtually, they need to know that paying attention, listening, and actively participating is a requirement. Employees should not be multi-tasking – working on other things when they should be listening – during meetings.  Explain why the guidelines (or rules) are important.  Estimate the costs to your business of a distracted workforce and share that information with your leadership team.  Include evaluation of communication and focusing skills in performance reviews so employees understand the importance of this to the business. Training does not need to be lengthy or expensive. Short PowerPoint presentations with audio made available via your company’s intranet would suffice in most situations.  

If the problem is so bad within your organization that you don’t think a simple solution will work, consider training your workforce - or at the very least, your managers - on business etiquette. Make sure your employees understand that their behaviors can affect their career opportunities. Most importantly, ensure that your executives and senior management team are modeling the behaviors you expect to see in your employees.