Psychologist’s Guide to Technology Mediated Work
Technology mediated work involves using technology to communicate with our colleagues and co-workers. It’s one of the beauties of the modern age we live in – we don’t need to sit with our workmates to collaborate. All we need is a computer and a decent internet connection!
As technology gets more sophisticated, technology mediated work is helping companies grow their international workforce. This recent growth is one of the reasons I talked about the three biggest international HR challenges. And if you read that article, you’ll know that remote communication is one of the most complex international HR issues.
So today, I’m talking again with Business Psychologist Simon Kilpatrick, from Intrinsic Links, to learn about the benefits, drawbacks and psychological implications of technology mediated work.
The challenges associated with tech communications at work
While I believe that remote collaboration can be fantastic, I’d be silly to pretend that it’s all sunshine and rainbows. So the first thing I asked Simon about, was what challenges are associated with technology mediated work.
“Technology mediated communication might be easier, and it certainly opens up opportunities for collaboration with people all over the world” he tells me, “but face to face interaction remains the richest form of communication. This is because the social interaction is delivered with social cues, both verbal and non-verbal.”
Simon says that with technology mediated communication, the lack of social cues increases anonymity, and results in a state of de-individuation. In the work context, this can present several challenges. For example:
- People pay less attention to the content of their interactions.
- There is less concern over how work will be evaluated
- Interactions are often shorter, more abrupt, and sometimes even rude
However, Simon is quick to point out that some evidence suggests that a lack of social cues can actually be a blessing, not a curse.
Fewer social cues can bring diverse groups together
So, social cues like body language and facial expressions can help us work together. But sometimes, the exact opposite can be true – and when I asked Simon to explain, he pointed me to Social Identity Model of De-individuation Effects (SIDE) (Lea & Spears, 1992, Spears & Lea, 1994).
“This model basically suggests that because people pay less attention to the way others interact, there is less focus on the interpersonal differences we all have” Simon explains. “In other words, you could have a group of people who would normally clash, were they to be sat in a room together. But when you take their physical interpersonal differences out of the equation, what happens is they focus more on their similarities – which could be, for example, that of belonging to the same remote working team.”
Simon says that in this context, members of a remote working group could develop far stronger attraction and conformity to one another, than if they were to be physically working together. In this context, the absence of social cues is very beneficial!
As a general rule, try to bring people together for non-routine tasks
I asked Simon to explain when the best time is to bring people together, even if they are normally collaborating via technology. He explained the following:
- Technology mediated work is most suitable for routine, predictable tasks
- Face to face work is most suitable for uncertain, or non-routine tasks
“While there are benefits and drawbacks associated with technology mediated work, a very general rule you might find helpful, is that if a group hasn’t figured out what each person’s role is yet, or if they are working on a new problem that does not yet have a solution, you’ll probably get better results from bringing them together, face to face. But for routine tasks, where you need to communicate – but where everybody knows their place – you’ll get along just fine with technology mediated work.”
At People®, we make a point of having ‘face time’ with everybody we work with, even if it’s just once every few months. And if this means flying out to India, or flying somebody in from Romania, then so be it. How do you support technology mediated working at your business?
Simon is a business psychologist, and founder of Intrinsic Links. He is also a lecturer of psychology at Leeds Beckett University. His company helps to teach positive psychology and management techniques that build great teams and top performers. You can visit Simon’s website here: www.intrinsiclinks.com
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