How to balance flextime with face time
And it’s easy. Or at least it should be. Your company has a flex policy that lets you work from home (or wherever) a few days a week. Your laptop can access shared company files via VPN, and your coworkers are all over Box. Your office is well-designed; it’s set up with videoconferencing software, collaboration rooms, heads-down workspaces and everything you need to feel connected when you’re out.
But old habits die hard. While you can work from anywhere—even within your office—it’s easier just to hole up at your desk. And even though you can Skype with the team any time, you usually just work from home in a t-shirt with no make-up. (Or maybe that’s just me.) It’s more convenient to just pick up the phone. Or email. Or IM.
In our obsession with flextime, we forgot about face time.
But face-to-face communication has a wealth of benefits—it’s just that many of them are physiological, so we don’t even notice when they’re missing. At risk of grossly oversimplifying some very cool scientific research: when we chat with someone in person, chemical reactions occur within our bodies that lower stress, increase trust and make us feel closer with one another. We’re better at taking turns within a conversation, and our brains literally begin to mirror one another’s and make us more empathetic.
As JLL’s Dr. Marie Puybaraud says in an article for Work Design Magazine: “After years of building a close relationship with a screen and falling in love with millions of pixels, we need more reality in our experience and more authenticity in our relationships. Creating visual contact is becoming a priority and is perceived as a privilege.”
So how do you find the right balance? Here are a three tips to make the most out of your workplace’s design and technologies to get the best of both worlds.
1. Be a digital leader.
First, remember that it doesn’t always have to be about the latest and greatest technology. Sometimes being a leader just means leading by example. Simply remembering to dial (or video chat) a remote employee in when an impromptu discussion pops up can go a long way in making everyone feel more connected and cohesive.
Second, keep an eye out for tools that create better work experiences and expertly blend the need for personal connection with the convenience of remote connectivity. If you identify a gap in your workflow, dig into resources that can help you plug it. Beyond conferencing software, tools like Yammer for improved internal communication, Box for file sharing and Basecamp for project management can better connect people across physical borders.
If your office is future-proof and tech-enabled, then putting new technologies in place that enhance your work life and improve communication shouldn’t be an issue, so long as there’s a business case to support them. Just be wary of falling into the “new and shiny” trap of wanting something cool before knowing what problem it will solve and how you’ll use it.
2. Don’t sacrifice human-to-human contact for machine-to-human contact.
Encourage team-oriented work and hands-on group trainings or learning sessions. Take advantage of huddle areas and collaborative work spaces not just for impromptu meetings or brainstorming sessions, but also to do solo work together on collaborative projects.
When you or someone you work with is working remotely, leverage the technology available to you to meet in as close to an in-person manner as possible. Even if you don’t have fancy web conferencing software, there are always options like FaceTime, Skype and Google Hangouts.
3. Be present.
Let’s be honest: virtual meetings—and even just having your computer or phone in front of you—make “multitasking” all too easy. (And there’s been extensive research on the negative effects of multitasking, including that it stunts emotional intelligence, reduces our ability to filter through information, makes us worse managers and cripples creativity. Yikes.)
Put down your phone, close your laptop and focus on being there with your colleagues—whether you’re meeting in person, via web conference or over the phone.
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