THE BLOG

There's a Human Void in the Office - Let's Fill It

14/05/2015 15:51 BST | Updated 13/05/2016 10:59 BST

When did you last text or Slack someone when it would have been easier to pick up the phone? Or, even worse, email a colleague who is in the same room (or more likely, sitting at the desk opposite), when getting up and going over would have been better? I certainly have, and I imagine nearly everyone is guilty of it at times.

Every day, we miss or avoid opportunities for 'real world' interaction with one another in the office. Why on earth do we do this? Not only does it make for a rubbish atmosphere (who wants to be sitting in a morgue surrounded by headphone wearing zombies?) but it also limits individual and collective success at work. We miss out on collaborating on ideas, sharing experiences (good and bad) and, fundamentally, creativity and having fun.

Sure, there are times when working independently is vital for concentration and getting things done, but we are social creatures, we work better and achieve more together. Too many of us hide behind technology to avoid face-to-face interaction; tools such as email and LinkedIn should be used to make 'real world' interaction easier and more efficient, not hinder it. George Lucas didn't create Star Wars over email. The London 2012 Olympic bid team didn't succeed by hiding behind their computers.

That's not to say that everyone finds it easy. There are plenty of very influential people in business who are painfully shy and have had to work hard at face time (not FaceTime). However hard they find it, I guarantee they all agree how useful and productive it can be.

Filling this void can start with the smallest of things, changes in behavior which can build to shift whole dynamics and cultures in the workplace and your life:

  • Where better to start than with the Great British tea round? Offering a brew to colleagues in and outside your team is a great way to find out what people are working on, how you might be able to help them or visa versa. So shout out, "who wants a brew," and watch the magic ensue.

  • In today's digital, 'always-on' world it's bloody impossible to give people your undivided attention. Not surprisingly, making an effort to listen can really improve relationships, plus it greatly improves productivity, for an individual and their team. It sounds ludicrously simple, but give it a go, it's harder than you might think.

  • The recent promotion didn't just go to the best emailer. These decisions are based on relationships. Talking about life away from work and taking an interest in colleagues' hobbies is often overlooked, especially when the pressure's on. Its important to get to know the people you see every day and create bonds that will not only boost job satisfaction but potentially unlock hidden benefits to your work, life and productivity, from an untapped client lead to an internal job opening. This has to be genuine though; we all know when it isn't.

It's not all about you though; your company has a part to play too. A focus on creating the right environments for this magic to happen is hugely important - places that are not only stimulating to work in but also encourage connections and chats on a daily basis. Steve Jobs was a big fan of this, and look where this got Apple (eventually).

So, here is my challenge, to you and myself: lets not become a nation of zombie offices. Lets unplug our headphones, put down our phones, resist the urge to email and make sure we all take the time to speak to one another, share ideas and collaborate where we can everyday. Not only will this create much healthier and more vibrant offices, but we will be more productive too.

James Layfield is CEO at Central Working, a growing network of member clubs in the UK, providing over 800 businesses of all sizes with the environment, community and support to thrive.