Balancing Electronic and In-person Communication in the Workplace

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 By Ian Smith

Member of IMA Young Professionals Committee
Executive Director, Senior Business Administrator, University of Cincinnati

Can you ever be too electronically connected? It is the ultimate paradox. Technology allows us to be in touch with our colleagues and friends 24/7, yet without a balance of electronic and in-person communication we will increasingly become disconnected from each other.
Below are some suggestions for managing your time spent corresponding with colleagues online and in person.
Turn your iPad, laptop, and cell phone off or on silent in meetings, and leave them alone. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of being overly electronically connected. It is common for me to be in a meeting and scroll through a few e-mails on my BlackBerry or glance at my meeting calendar to see what’s coming up next.
Resist this urge.
I promise you the work will still be there once the meetings are over, and it is very important to show the other meeting participants that you respect their time and attention. Active listening requires, well…active listening! While we all claim to be multitaskers and can partially listen while working on something else, being connected via electronic devices while in meetings can be viewed as disrespectful, and you could potentially miss important information.
Holster your handheld while walking around the office. Just today, I can think of two instances where I checked and responded to e-mails while walking from meeting to meeting, therefore ignoring what is happening around me. My advice is to put the phone away and interact with co-workers and clients as you walk between meetings and around workplace areas.
Just the other day I met our CEO in an elevator, introduced myself, and began what I hope is a positive relationship. If I would have been distracted by reading my BlackBerry, perhaps I would have made the wrong first impression and missed the opportunity to start this relationship off on the right foot.
Predefine time for e-mails and getting away from your office. Many professionals make a full-time job of e-mailing. While e-mail is an effective mode of communication for distributing feedback to many people, it can also absorb our day if we let it.
One suggestion to counter e-mail overload would be to block time in your calendar each day to read and respond to e-mails, and stick to this schedule. There is usually nothing so important that it cannot wait for a response within 24 hours. Another suggestion would be to block time for simply getting out of your chair and walking around your office. If you take even 30 minutes a day to say hello to staff, colleagues, and supervisors in person, you will be amazed at the great information you will start to receive because you are there and available.
Regularly have lunch in the cafeteria or outside of the office. If you sit at your desk while eating, it generally encourages more computer time and less face time. Some of the best professional relationships I have developed started over coffee or at lunch. Colleagues are more willing to open up outside of the perceived confines of the office environment, and you can obtain some of your best information and really connect with others if you make it a priority to network outside of the office. Lunches and coffee breaks are great opportunities for this.
We should never be a servant to our electronics, they should serve us. Some of these ideas will be tough to implement in your daily lives, but I assure you that you will be more connected than ever when you can learn to unplug on a regular basis. You will always win if you make relationships and people a priority over electronic devices.

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