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Create Personal Connections at Work: A Q&A with Dan Schawbel

Why face-to-face time is more important than FaceTime.

A man in a suit and glasses is speaking on stage.
​Dan Schawbel

​Technology and social media have given us more ways than ever to network, connect and communicate. Sadly, these tools have also contributed to a modern-day epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Americans spend only 39 minutes a day in face-to-face conversation but watch nearly three hours of TV, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Younger generations are lonelier than older generations, according to a survey from Virgin Pulse, a workplace technology company. Even at work, nearly 4 in 10 people say they’re lonely. That takes a human toll, but there’s also a business cost. Lonely employees are likely to be less productive and less committed to the company.

New York Times best-selling author Dan Schawbel wants to help professionals reclaim their humanity and build deeper relationships. The researcher and workplace-trends expert explores that topic in his new book, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation (Da Capo Press, 2018).

How are technology and social media affecting workers’ personal interactions?

They have created the illusion of connection. But the reality is we feel more disconnected and isolated, and lonelier than ever. And our dependency on technology is increasing. We need to be in control of that. Use your electronic calendar to schedule conference rooms and guide you to meetings, but be present when you’re there and use that time to develop strong team relationships. We need to use technology as a bridge instead of a barrier to human connection.

Everyone is guilty of overusing technology, and the more you use it, the more you create a habit. The biggest thing that gets in the way of in-person communication is e-mail. We use technology as a crutch because it’s so convenient, but it’s a double-edged sword.

How can HR professionals make the hiring process more human?

Hire for personality; train for skill. Hire people who are likable, open to feedback, easy to get along with, and who have a positive attitude and good teamwork skills. I also advocate for in-person interviews so you can see people’s body language and how they handle themselves. Video and phone interviews can never replace that. Besides, using technology to interview is rife with complications. Once, I lost reception during a Skype job interview and immediately got rejected for the position, even though I was qualified. Using tech might be easier, but it’s a horrible way to make a final decision about a candidate.

Should remote work be eliminated to promote personal interactions?

No, but there should be a steady balance between remote work and in-person contacts. Everyone talks about the positive aspects of telecommuting—the freedom and flexibility—but the negative side is the isolation. Over one-third of employees work remotely at least some of the time but, of those employees, two-thirds are disengaged when they are physically at the workplace. The strength of their relationships and their commitment to the company are weaker. While it’s great to have freedom, it comes at a cost that isn’t often discussed. The human connection matters.

What can HR and other business leaders do to encourage meaningful personal connections?

They can help build connections through team-building activities, social events and “workcations”—working from a different city, away from the normal site. They should encourage team members to attend conferences and trade shows together, because a shared learning culture increases loyalty and decreases turnover. Leaders need to get to know their employees on a personal level. When people feel like they belong to a team that supports their personal needs, they are naturally more productive and committed to the organization.  

Interview by Kathryn Tyler, a freelance writer and former HR generalist in Wixom, Mich.

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