How important is face-to-face interaction in the era of remote work and digital communication? Is a real face-to-face meeting (not Zoom) still relevant? Leaders are asking whether the current digital substitutions for live, face-to-face meetings are sustainable long-term. What will be the impact on relationships, productivity, and company culture?
Prior to the pandemic, a front-page story in Fortune Magazine entitled Humans Are Underrated by Geoff Colvin cited “three skills you need to thrive in the new workplace.” A survey by Oxford Economics found that Fortune 500 human resource managers were struggling to find people with these three skills:
1. Empathy (ability to understand the feelings of another)
2. Communication (ability to connect to another and build a relationship)
3. Collaboration (ability to work on a team)
As Meg Bear, Vice-President of Oracle stated, “Empathy is the critical 21st Century skill.” Other managers chimed in that they could hire the best and brightest with the tech skills and the analytical skills, but they couldn’t find people with the “soft” skills of empathy, communication, and collaboration. If empathy is a critical skill at a tech company like Oracle, how critical is in a real estate company?
A further concern cited in the article: As electronic communication and screen time increase, these three critical workplace skills decrease. For example, 82% of emails are misunderstood regarding tone (empathy). These three skills are developed through face-to-face interaction.
Post COVID, there is a rush to remote work, and it appears to be working – at least in the short term. Is it working simply because the real estate market is so hot that our focus is consumed with just getting the next transaction closed? Are we so busy there isn’t time to worry about empathy, communication, and collaboration for our team?
But what is the future culture of an organization with declining empathy, communication/relationships, and collaboration? Leaders should be concerned. The negative impacts will be incremental, almost unnoticeable at first. But they will compound, build up, and explode at some point.
How should leaders address this issue? It starts with awareness and a commitment to proactively nurture empathy, communication, and collaboration in the organization. This should be done primarily face-to-face for the best results.
The era of remote work is not going away. It’s here and most real estate professionals are comfortable with it. Companies are responding with reduced office space and/or reduced hours. Because of that, leaders will have to work even harder to stay connected to their people and let them know they care (empathy). They will need to communicate more one-on-one and in small groups. They’ll need to create meetings that sizzle so their people will want to come and be a part of the tribe. They’ll need to create parties, games, and volunteer activities to encourage collaboration. And it all will need to happen face-to-face.