Can technology replace face-to-face interaction?

As companies continue to invest in more and more technology, whether or not this can replace face-to-face interaction is being questioned.

Lucy Hopwood Marketing Administrator at FMC Global Talent

As we move onto the fourth and final topic of the FMC Future of Work series, we’re looking at how the pandemic has impacted our working relationships. From where we work, how often we work and what technology we now use, there’s been a whole host of changes over the past two years – all of which have debatably affected our professional relationships, amongst both employees and employers.

It’s undeniable that technology has a whole range of benefits; from hosting complete working setups on our dining tables to holding virtual meetings with people around the globe, it has allowed the world to continue with some form of normality.

But what sometimes isn’t recognised is the downsides that come alongside the increased digitalisation of the working world. From remote workers feeling isolated to older workers finding the transition to new tech difficult – there’s a lot to consider when making the switch.

Virtually connected = disconnected?

With the move to an increasingly digital world, how we work has been made a lot easier in many ways, allowing us to be connected to anyone, from anywhere.

But has being more virtually connected in some ways potentially left us disconnected in others? In its latest Workmonitor report, ‘Technology and the human touch’, Randstad discovered nearly half of all polled workers think the digitalisation of the workplace makes them feel less connected to their co-workers. The report, which polled workers from 34 different countries between the ages of 18 – 65, also found that 89% of people think a face-to-face meeting is the best way to interact with someone.

However, the ability to now hold virtual meetings is hugely beneficial for global companies, who can use business communication platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom, to meet with clients across the world without having to move an inch away from their computer. The use of said software also helps bridge the gap between office bases and remote employees…

Remote vs. office workers

In the instance of remote employees, relationships between both their colleagues and their employers lies mainly in the hands of using the likes of Microsoft Teams. Through such software, remote workers are still able to communicate with colleagues and get involved with virtual company culture, despite not working in an office.

However, it’s possible for the loss of physical proximity to colleagues to impact the interpersonal skills of workers and lead them to feel isolated. Despite being a member of a virtual team, there’s no opportunity for interaction such as small talk at the kettle or a trip to the shop for lunch which ultimately helps build upon professional relationships.

Out with the old, in with the new

As part of the FMC Future of Work Survey, we asked respondents about the challenges they had personally faced when it comes to the technology we have adopted in recent years. Putting aside standard issues such as software failing and internet connections going down, we discovered older employees felt they struggled to adapt to new technologies.

When introducing modern technology, it’s worth noting for companies that not all their employees may take to it like a duck to water. It’s important to recognise those who may find changes challenging and offer them an alternative or additional support in using new tech if needed.

What about FMC?

Here at FMC, we believe technology will struggle to replace face-to-face interaction. Despite the technology FMC now operates from allowing for inter-team connection across our two offices, plus a handful of employees who work fully remote (with one even living overseas!), it’s not comparable to the socialisation of seeing colleagues in person.

Not only does face-to-face interaction offer instant communication, but it also gives employees the chance to engage in essential social interaction, which benefits both working relationships and general staff wellbeing.

If the correct balance is met, the increase in digitalisation can benefit companies. With the ease of communication tech has brought us, we’re able to build relationships with colleagues we don’t see on a day-to-day basis, and those who work remotely are still able to be involved in our company culture. Ultimately, there’s a fine line between being too digitalised and lacking useful tech – and this is likely to be subjective to each individual.

The FMC Future of Work series aims to explore what the future holds for our professional lives. During the project, we’ll be providing weekly updates where we’ll be discussing different aspects of how, where and when we work.

We’re also researching what the future of work may look like for us all, and will be sharing our findings with you in the new year. We’d love to hear your thoughts – fill in the Future of Work Survey here.


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