In the 90’s management guru Charles Handy emphasised the importance of combining ‘touch’ and ‘tech’. Essentially, he asserted that for tech to be used effectively in communications, you had to combine it with at least some face to face communication. Many of us would identify with that philosophy, for example, working through issues over the phone or email always seems easier if you’ve actually met the person first.
Fast forward from the 90’s and technology has obviously advanced enormously. But even as we have improved our tech skills, the predilection for communicating face-to-face has remained the hallmark of baby boomers. A study by the Australian Seniors Insurance Agency (ASIA), found that when it comes to personal issues, performance feedback and even complaints, the split of over-50s who will elect to talk to someone in the flesh over other means of communications ranks in the 80–90 percentile – compared to Gen Ys, who are usually much more content with email and phone.
In many ways, this approach has held older workers in good stead in the workplace. But now we are faced with COVID-19 and face to face is no longer possible. How can we draw on our interpersonal communication strengths in this new virtual workplace?
There are many exciting technologies where we can practise our interpersonal skills. But first, we need to overcome the psychological barrier and, we argue, the misconception that older people are not good at tech. That same ASIA study that praised our personal communication skills also found that only 9.8% of those surveyed saw over-50s as being strong in their technical skills compared to 26.9% for Gen Y employees.
At WOWT we have found that whilst these technologies may not come naturally to some of us who are not digital natives, they are very learnable. We have been learning a lot more about ZOOM video conferencing. It is easy to use and has become very popular for online work meetings.
The other popular tools people are using for the video conferencing, file sharing and general online discussions are Microsoft teams, Cisco Webex ,Whereby and Slack. Slack, a team collaboration tool, has also become increasingly popular as a replacement for internal email and to allow people to work together on joint projects more seamlessly.
For those of us who are still in work and able to work online from home during this awful pandemic, there is perhaps one small ray of sunshine. Anecdotally, we are hearing that work has become a little more fun. For example, there was a story about the manager who was experimenting with creating different filters on one of the video conferencing apps and managed to turn herself into a potato. She was then unable to figure out how to return to normal and had to run an entire meeting as a potato!
The great thing about this is that most of us are learning together how to use these tools and so it doesn’t much matter if we make mistakes. In this respect COVID-19 has been a great leveller. Why not have a go!
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