These days, the screen is the only interface in corporate level discussions. It should not remain the only one once the pandemic dies down. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

After weeks of working from home, the uptake of digital platforms as a leading connection point to the world of work is deeply entrenched. These behaviours will not disappear once quarantine is over, and it’s likely even those who were forced to adopt digital practices will continue these practices going forward.

This is a good thing — it enables us to work without geographical boundaries and to create flexible team structures and environments that can create a people-centric culture. However, these advances come with a warning label — while technology makes it ever easier to communicate, it also makes it ever harder to empathise.

Human factor

Empathy is our social glue. It is the facet that allows us to connect and engage as people, and very often this can be made harder when we are separated by screens. A relationship built and managed at distance will never be the same as being in the same room to see and hear your audience in real life.

However much we may believe in technology’s increasing ability to drive connectivity, the importance of human connectivity can never be underestimated. As the corporate world grapples with ever increasing levels of loneliness and anxiety sweeping workplaces, and detrimentally impacting both performance and motivation levels, the post Covid-19 leader’s role will be heightened when it comes to balancing the increased leverage of technology with humanity.

The creation of another app for your teams, members or clients will not solve (entirely) the need to be seen and heard as people first, face-to-face. If our teams are to thrive as cohesive units, technology needs to play a positive role in fuelling part of the solution for greater social understanding. It will be the human beings behind the usage that will ensure this is so.

The parameters and approach with which we leverage our machine-led engagements are of paramount importance when we remove the physical ability to sense people’s moods, read body language, and reflect on someone’s behaviour. Especially when this is over an extended period of time.

Tech steamrolls all

It can be easy to let technology systematically override thoughtful, people-led experience versus simply seeing these mechanisms as the enabling mediums they are supposed to be. Tech interventions can undoubtedly strengthen our connectivity, but our virtual connections can weaken the cohesion as people if we let them.

Technology isn’t going away, and nor should we want it to. But we must be aware these digital mediums can exaggerate anti-social and polarised positions that evolve into loneliness as our teams sit with a screen as their only door to the corporate culture in which they belong.

Ultimately, technology is only as powerfully positive as the people behind it. The balance of our digital engagement with our real-world empathy is to be managed with focus if we are to avoid seeing our performance dissipate along with the virus that sped us into these hyper tech-led relationships in the first place.

- Mimi Nicklin is an author and influencer.