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It’s good to talk - so don’t let technology shut down communication in your business

PUBLISHED: 16:18 04 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:18 04 August 2018

A face-to-face conversation might not always be the easy way out, but it's often the most productive. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A face-to-face conversation might not always be the easy way out, but it's often the most productive. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Technology can make our lives easier, but sometimes the old ways are still the best, writes business editor Mark Shields.

Mark Shields, Business Editor. Staff byline. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYMark Shields, Business Editor. Staff byline. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

It’s good to talk – we surely all know that by now.

But I was reminded of the adage last week as I spoke (face-to-face, naturally) with a business owner who was telling me about the latest rule he’d introduced at his digital marketing firm.

His workforce has been banned from using email for anything other than closed questions or factual queries – all other interaction with colleagues has to be done in person.

Want to know a project deadline or an invoice number? By all means, fire off an email to get your answer.

But if you want a general update on how a presentation went, or some advice on the best way to approach a difficult client, you’ll have to have a conversation either in person or over the phone.

The approach was inspired by Google research into how staff used email, which found that productivity improved when such restrictions were put in place.

No more hiding behind a faceless email, or passing the buck, or endless terse back-and-forths as you and your correspondent avoid the awkward question – talk it out directly.

“If it’s good enough for Google and their researchers, it’s good enough for us,” was the essence of this company director’s view.

It’s a concern that other managers have raised with me before, especially with younger team members who are used to living their lives behind or through a screen.

But this isn’t another grievance that can be unfairly dumped at the door of millennials, because it affects all generations.

It struck a chord because I think many of us know all too well how much time can be wasted with needless emails. It’s so easy for someone else to forward their work into your inbox, or for you to agonise over finding the right tone for a message that can be conveyed far more easily in person.

And it’s not just important for difficult conversations; it’s also key for creativity, for team morale and for collaboration. That just doesn’t happen over email.

You can’t predict when someone else’s half-formed idea will resonate with one of yours to become the answer to the question you were both facing. Two (or three, or more) minds are better than one.

And if it’s true within a business, the same goes between businesses.

There’s a reason that networking groups, many with innovative approaches, are thriving even in a digital age: there’s nothing quite like making a connection in person.

Companies across our region are finding ways to work better, and smarter. If you’re trying something new, I’d like to hear about it – so let’s talk.

• If you have a story for the business pages, call Mark Shields on 01603 772426. (If you’re not ready to give up email yet, you can also contact him on mark.shields@archant.co.uk)

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