Is the Virtual Workforce Trend Harming Communication Skills?
I saw a story on CNN last week about how more and more Americans are turning to freelance work. The story explained how 17 million Americans no longer work for companies and this number could jump to 23 million in the next few years.
Studies predict that by 2020, more than 40 percent of our nation’s workforce—or 60 million people—will be freelancers, contractors and temporary workers. And as so many seek that work-life balance, why wouldn’t this trend continue past the next seven years?
Most people love the idea of working from home, being your own boss, making your own schedule and, probably the biggest benefit, not having to commute into an office.
But the flexible lifestyle isn’t always as charming as it seems. Like all things in life, working remotely has its downside:
- Inconsistent income (if you’re a freelancer)
- Out-of-office distractions
- Being alone/isolated on a daily basis
- Not working enough (goes back to distractions)
Most people understand the pros and cons that come with telecommuting, but there is one area I haven’t seen addressed as much—developing and strengthening communication skills.
Think about it: When we are young we’re forced to develop communication skills (outside of the home) as we go to school and interact with others. We learn social etiquette and the do’s and don’t’s of interacting with other people.
As we grow, we learn the same type of communication skills, only this time for a professional environment. What happens when you take that environment away or significantly decrease your presence in one?
We’ve heard opinions on how this new wave of technological communication is slowly but surely taking the place of face-to-face communication…which isn’t always a good thing. Can the same be true for this new trend of telecommuting?
Like all good discussions, this issue has some pros and cons that need to be addressed. Shall we?
Topic: Remote workers and communication
Pro: Working remotely doesn’t harm communication, because there are plenty of ways for these types of workers to stay connected.
You’re in the comfort of your home working on assignments for XYZ company. A problem arises. How can you stay connected with others on your team?
Well, thanks to that good-old boom of technology, there are now more ways than ever to communicate with someone. Skype, Google chat, email, shared whiteboard, IM, group chat, video conferencing, social media, fax, conference calls, and the age-old phone call.
The list of technological communications tools can go on and on.
Telecommuters often participate in weekly conference calls to stay up to date on the company (or team) happenings. They can have Skype sessions with clients and/or their team members and bosses if they desire to “put a face with a name” and feel more like they’re physically present.
Communication isn’t stifled because the remote workers can constantly interact with others on their team, just as if they were in the office.
Con: Working remotely (physically outside of an office) hinders communication and negatively affects how connected one feels to a team and/or company.
Let’s face it, working from home can be lonely. This is especially true if you live alone and/or don’t have close relationships in your local community.
A family friend recently expressed her concern in working from home:
“I do not feel like I’m growing,” she had explained. “I’m the only employee so I never really have to talk to anyone. Sure, I communicate with others on a daily basis, but most of it is through email. I am truly disconnected socially.”
There is a reason our teachers made us work in groups while in school—to learn how to effectively work with others. Developing social skills and understanding how to communicate inter-personally is extremely crucial because life calls for interacting with others.
Sure, technology has allowed us to communicate while physically being away from others, but there is something powerful (and necessary) in physical face-to-face communication. Expressing yourself via email is totally different when expressing yourself in someone’s presence. Physical communication teaches us how and when to use certain tones; it can tell a lot about ourselves or others (passionate, excited, sad, etc.); and it helps us feel connected to the person we’re communicating with.
Working remotely can cause a disconnection between the worker and his/her team because of the lack of physicality. For example, in this article the author explains his dislike of being “the invisible guy” at the table during conference calls and that working remotely adds to the familiar phrase “out of sight , out of mind.” Because your colleagues never see you they don’t know who you are (and probably don’t care). You don’t feel like you’re truly a member of the team.
What do all of you think, Recruiter.com readers? If you work remotely (or have) share your pros and cons on telecommuting and communication. Are our technological tools enough or does physically being away hinder communication?