intergenerational conflict

Playing well is a vital skill at any age

Hold hands, & stick together = playing well

For many of us, September is when our children head back to school wearing a backpack full of new pencils, erasers, notebooks, and folders. We attend Open House to meet our child’s new teachers and to understand the expectations for the new academic year. Regardless of your child’s grade, the constant theme is one of collaboration and teamwork. For the elementary levels, this goal is shared in Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” as ‘play fair’, and is outlined in a high school’s 21st-century learning framework as a specific skill.

Either way, collaboration, and teamwork are important skills for students to practice before entering the workforce, as they will need to rely on other people to succeed. It also serves as a reminder to those who have many years of work experience (and know the trials and tribulations of teamwork) that teamwork skills need to be continuously honed for mastery. Research by Alex “Sandy” Pentland found that the most important predictor of a team’s success is its communication patterns. These patterns are as significant as all other factors – intelligence, personality, and talent – combined.

At Bridging Distance, we found similar themes in our work. Our research shows that advanced communication dynamics in virtual teams significantly improved their ability to work well together and produce results faster. This is evident in successful virtual teams. By helping build explicit processes and critical skills, members stay energized and engaged in their work together. These processes center on getting the right information to the right people at the right time, via the right technology; it means expectations for posting documents and messages in a repository. This allows each team member to find what they need when they need it, without searching cluttered inboxes at a later date. It also means defining what types of situations are more urgent, and require a more immediate response. Posting updates and status allows communication dynamics to be a dialog about the significance of the information. These interactions tend to more interesting, and therefore more engaging to team members. It means the right people attend meetings, while those who only need to have updates can confidently and respectfully spend their time elsewhere.

Our research also shows that people with excellent digital communication habits are significantly happier in their jobs, therefore more productive. Managing digital interruptions is key; balancing responding to others versus staying present in the moment means you can be fully attentive to your current activity. Being curious about the environment of others paves the way to learning what you don’t know. Teaching leaders how to foster rapport across Distance enables them to motivate Millennials, communicate with a multicultural team, and respond quickly to change.

Technology dehumanizes relationships; our work helps re-humanize them. We use a simple tool for diagnosing root cause in digital workplace environment called The Distance Lens™. Viewing workplace performance through Interpersonal, Organizational, Physical, and Technological differences allow us to provide solutions to fix problem areas without inadvertently breaking ones that work well.

Bridging Distance provides behavioral-based solutions for companies to manage existing or anticipated distance complexities that impact employee performance. Through a combination of proprietary assessments, evidenced-based workshops, and customized coaching, Bridging Distance develops and maximizes employee engagement to accelerate productivity, profitability and employee retention.

So, heed Robert’s advice from Kindergarten and “when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” Partnering with Bridging Distance will build your pathways to move forward together.

Book Your Email Vacation Now!

Email ‘vacations’ decrease stress, increase concentration

UCI findings could boost on-the-job productivity

— Irvine, Calif., May 03, 2012 —

Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to a new study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers.

Heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows. People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark. She co-authored the study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” with UCI assistant project scientist Stephen Voida and Army senior research scientist Armand Cardello. The UCI team will present the work Monday, May 7, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.

The study was funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation. Participants were computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston. Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.  Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”

Mark said it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK. In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”

Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said. Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.

Study subjects worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men. The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated. But they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.

The Army is examining use of smartphones and such applications as email for soldiers on battlefields, said David Accetta, spokesman for the Natick facility’s research and development section. “This data may very well prove helpful,” he said.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news, visitwww.today.uci.edu.

Toxic Texting

Recently, a client confided that his staff’s texting habits are beyond frustrating for him; that staff members “whip” out their cell phones and begin texting at any time, and at all times!

Sound familiar? Is this disrespectful or efficient?

This client assumed these texts were of a personal nature and he wondered why he was paying people to have personal conversations on his dime. Would these same people answer a personal phone call in the middle of a work conversation or meeting?

When is it okay to text at work?

Each of us is likely to have a different answer to that question, based on our generation, industry, function, economic status, and perhaps even where we live.

We know that some, perhaps many, of your texts are legitimate, work-related messages. Texting can be a quick and efficient way to have a work question answered, to find out where the meeting was re-located to, or to find out where a co-worker is if you need to find them.

Ask yourself:

What is your body language when you text? How do others interpret that? If you are smiling and chuckling, does that tell people around you that you’re having a personal conversation? If you look serious or are frowning, will other’s think your text is work-related?

What about if you are working independently in your cube or even in a group setting, what assumptions might people make when they walk by and see you texting?

Next time your phone alerts you to a new text, stop and consider what is going on around you.  Are you in a setting with other people who are expecting you to pay attention, to be engaged with them? If so, how are they likely to interpret your actions if you are distracted with texting? What do you suppose they are thinking about you and your commitment to the task at hand? No matter how discreet you believe you are being, everyone around you is aware that you are texting.

Why does it matter, anyway? We live in a society where texting is fast becoming the go-to mode of communication. Even my 72-year-old mother has a smartphone and sends me text messages. Who cares if I read it and respond during a part of a meeting in which I have nothing to contribute at that moment?

Therein lies the rub.

People do care, and they care a lot.

There are unintended consequences of allowing personal conversations to distract you from the work that you are being paid to do. Short of a bona-fide emergency, these distractions often make a person appear unprofessional to their peers and leaders. Just last week, two co-workers were clearly texting back and forth during a meeting and the presenter was distracted by their behavior. We wondered if they (the co-workers) thought that no one could figure out what they were doing or if they just didn’t care that they were acting like junior-high school students passing notes?

Are you a Toxic Texter?

TRY THIS — for the next two days, track how much time you spend engaging in personal text messages while at work. Include time spent reading, pondering, composing, sending, editing, and checking for a response.   Additionally, keep track of your work-related text messages.

Evaluate your results. It might be time to turn off texting while at work. If you’re not sure if your workplace is “text friendly”, ask! Having an explicit conversation about acceptable and unacceptable electronic behaviors can be relationship-building and help bridge distance.

Happy Holidays and thank you for reading!

Technology vs. the Human Contact Across Generations

This is an exciting time to be in the workforce. Diversity, although not at the level I would like it to be, has allowed for different genders, races and age groups to converge in the single space of a common employer. When I worked for a multi-national in Mozambique, I had a colleague near retirement that had a memory of gold. He was a human archive who knew just about everything where the department was concerned, but there was an interesting anomaly. Emailing? Not really his style. He opted for face-to-face contact, and phone calls by default. This made me consider how different generations use technology in the workplace, and whether any differences as a result of these choices create barriers between these groups?

Generations are generally split as follows, although different sources use differing cut-offs: Traditional or Veterans (born pre-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), Generation Y or Millenials (1981-1995), and the Linkster or Generation Z (post-1995). As a Gen Y adult, I have grown up with the internet and evolving technologies. According to Work Empowerment Foundation, technology has rewired the brains of Gen Y’s so that we are capable of handling high volumes of information and can multi-task without losing concentration. I am certainly guilty of working simultaneously across 10+ tabs on my browser (thank you Google Chrome’s Stay Focusd) and loving email and IM, but is this not pure coincidence? Are my ex-colleague’s and my views about the use of technology a product of our formative years?

Kelly Services surveyed close to 100,000 workers in 33 countries (6,000 of which work in the IT sector) to determine the intergenerational issues alive in the workplace. The number one communication method of choice by 72% of respondents was face-to-face communication, followed by written correspondence, including e-mail (18%) and instant message/chat (6%). Phone and voicemail (3%) trickled in last position. Other results were as follows:

Adapt communication style to colleagues from a different generation 73%
Feel they understand the generational differences in the workplace 76%
Feel that – generational difference makes the workplace productive 41%
– generational difference interferes with productivity 23%
– generational difference makes no difference 25%

One thing is for sure, our rapidly changing, “switched on” world requires that all of us are adept to changing the way we use technology in the workplace, and most likely in our personal lives too. With technology becoming increasingly user-friendly, adaptation should be smoother. After all, it is there to facilitate collaboration and productivity. Effective communication through use of this technology can then enable us to create value.

I think each generation has something rich to offer in the workplace, and newbies should not disregard the important role that mentors can have in one’s career – even if they may not like IM’ing. I think the Gen X’s helped paved the way towards subsequent generations balancing their careers and personal life. Us Gen Y’s can now demand and negotiate for work/life balance with more confidence and use the technology of our time to achieve it!