Video conferences, emails, chat messages – everyday working relations have changed enormously in recent years. Does actual personal contact still play any role in the era of digitization? Digital media simplify work processes, but they can’t replace personal interaction. Anyone who seriously wants to be successful cannot rely on their professional expertise alone. Emotional ties play a key role in working relationships. Human beings are social creatures. They need personal contact to establish close and trusting relations. In other words, it can be said that the more personally people interact, the better they will communicate in the end. The futurologist John Naisbitt had good grounds to predict that: “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st-century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanded concept of what it means to be human.”
How do close and positive relations affect how people and companies work? Nurturing personal relationships intensively helps us to understand our colleagues better. The atmosphere at work improves as a result. This is particularly important for companies when specialist workers are in short supply, as it strengthens employees’ loyalty. It also boosts their motivation – which in turn increases efficiency and productivity. Incidentally, this doesn’t only apply to co-workers, but also to our working relationships with partners and customers. Eating lunch together, brainstorming or attending a workshop strengthens our personal relationships, which can motivate people immensely during a project.
What benefits can be reaped from collaborating across cultures, age groups and national boundaries? Employees and even entire companies can gain inspiration from “strangers”. How do your colleagues or customers work in Japan? What are the workflows like there? And what expertise can I take on board from experienced or digital-savvy colleagues? By observing someone else’s strengths at the same time as owning up to our own weaknesses, we can learn from one another and harness new synergies.
How can companies promote positive relations? For this kind of collaboration to have a positive effect, people have to stand eye-toeye. This is the only way to nurture values such as tolerance and appreciation. People generally notice very quickly if something changes in the manner of their social relations – for instance if someone takes longer to respond to an email, writes more briefly than before or suddenly seems more formal. In cases like these, I would advise people to immediately instigate a conversation. This is important because misunderstandings arise much more quickly in digital communications than in face-to-face conversations.