by Courtney Llewellyn

Remember when the Year 2020 seemed like the distant future? It gave us the promise of technical advances that would change our world, and it has. Computers fit in our watches. Video-calling someone on the other side of the globe is easy.

And yes, you still need workers on site to start plugs, water, transplant, care for and harvest plants, but being in one location is hardly enough these days. A web presence is quickly becoming an absolute necessity, and with that presence comes a digital workforce. Learning how to manage that among all the many other demands 2020 is throwing at you can feel overwhelming. Fret not, because Neal Glatt, a managing partner with Grow the Bench, is here to help.

Glatt recently presented “Managing in the Age of a Digital Workforce” at Cultivate’20, held virtually this year, for those who wanted to learn more on the topic.

“The virtual experience is not a replacement for face-to-face, and we shouldn’t treat it that way,” Glatt began. However, remote working is still on the rise, and digitization is radically changing the nature of work. “Mobile technology blurs work and life,” he noted. “Every business today is a 24/7 business.”

That nonstop approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing when the most desired perk for employees today is workplace flexibility. There is a caveat, however; employees still need clear expectations, the materials and equipment to do their jobs, recognition for a job well done and to feel cared about as a person. “No matter where we’re working, that’s a very important aspect of any team,” Glatt said. “Growth and development opportunity is the number one need of employees. They need to feel like their opinions count. They need strong social bonds. The research is really clear that it’s not what we do but who we do it with that really counts.”

Unfortunately, digitization, mobile technology, flexible scheduling and working from home are all disrupters to those social bonds. A lack of motivation – which is influenced by challenging and meaningful work, responsibility and a sense of importance – can lead to less incentive to do a job well because an employee is not getting those needs in the current work environment. Quality communication can help solve that.

The Proper Mode of Communication

Glatt broke down modern communication into two categories: the “who,” “what” and “where” make up 2-D communication; the “why” is 3-D. While various modes fall along a spectrum, text messages and emails are the best examples of 2-D communication; video chats and face-to-face conversations are 3-D. “Where communication is tending to fall apart these days is trying to have a 3-D conversation in a 2-D mode. You miss the richness and the intentions of other people. There are emotional miscommunications, and because of that, people lose trust,” Glatt said. “Conversely, wasted time, frustrating meetings and lost confidence occur when there is 2-D content in a 3-D mode (like a meeting that could have been an email).” He added that Millennials and Gen Z tend to be more comfortable with digital communication.

Glatt also cited psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55% Rule, which states the elements of personal communication are 7% spoken words, 38% voice and tone and 55% body language. That means a lot can be lost when you only see words on a screen.

“What have we learned in 40 years of email? Not a whole lot,” Glatt laughed. Anecdotally, typing in ALL CAPS means you’re yelling. There are also some subconscious rules: “Just wanted to follow up” means “Why haven’t you responded?” “Let’s circle back” means “I don’t want to think about this right now.”

“I’m always for short emails, especially on mobile devices,” Glatt said. “State your intentions with examples – and people who have good intentions are more likely to have people work with them.”

Other tips include the “3 Email Rule.” After three rounds of emails, the conversation is entrenched and needs to go offline. Glatt recommends using emojis – but use restraint. “They’re awesome at conveying emotion, which is the part of email we never get across, and maybe they introduce some levity to a situation,” he explained. He added, “Always assume an email will be read by a jury – write with a cool head. Have a partner help edit emails, especially critical ones.”

As for conference calls… “We know nobody’s really paying attention. How can we fix that?” Glatt asked. “A conference call is nothing like a meeting in real life. First, you need to schedule the right amount of time – 30 or 60 minutes is not usually correct. Sometimes all you need is 17 minutes. Adult attention spans are only about 10 minutes.” It may require more planning, but sending out necessary information in advance will mean your team will be more engaged in calls.

Individuals need to be specifically called on if you want responses from them. You also need to allow equal time for all participants – if they’re on the call, their input is desired. Glatt recommended starting a call with good news or another social aspect. This is especially important because a Gallup poll found that having a “work best friend” leads to seven times better engagement at work. Being intentional about making that connection is critically important. You and your team need phone calls or face-to-face time to forge social bonds. Trying having a “show and tell” or a “happy hour” call with employees not tied to work.

Other tips for video-conferencing include lighting your space well, making sure your camera is right in front of you and using a good microphone. Even though you’re at home, you still need to consider your appearance. Lastly, Glatt said, stand and smile. Doing so means you’ll project with more confidence, and that changes the dynamic of how you come across virtually.