Relying too much on e-mail may be bad for business
Washington: E-mails and videoconferences might help workers complete tasks more quickly, but they`re not necessarily completing them well, according to a new research.
Gregory Northcraft, a University of Illinois business leadership expert, says high-tech communication strips away the personal interaction needed to breed trust, a key ingredient in getting workers to pull together and carry their share of the load.
“Technology has made us much more efficient, but much less effective. Something is being gained, but something is being lost. The something gained is time and the something lost is the quality of relationships. And quality of relationships matters,” he said.
Relationships that build trust are critical when workers band together on projects, said Northcraft.
He says collaborative projects suffer when workers doubt colleagues will do their share, creating a sense of injustice that leads them to shirk their own responsibilities.
“If I’m not confident other people will do their share of the work, I’m less likely to do my share because I don’t want to be taken advantage of. If everyone takes that attitude, nothing gets done,” he said.
The trust needed to build teamwork wanes when projects are managed by way of detached, high-tech means rather than face to face, according to research by Northcraft and George Mason University professor and U of I graduate Kevin Rockmann.
Northcraft said, “I think it’s not as much about what you see as what you think you see. Face to face, people just have more confidence that others will do what they say they’ll do. Over e-mail, they trust each other less.”
The study put more than 200 undergraduate students through two hypothetical teamwork exercises, some face to face and others through e-mail and videoconferences. Face-to-face contact yielded the most trust and cooperation while e-mail netted the least, with videoconferences somewhere in between, Northcraft said.
He says the study shows businesses need to re-examine their use of high-tech communication, which has grown over the last two decades because of its expediency and because more companies are spread out geographically rather than under the same roof.
“The key is recognizing the limitations and recognizing that exclusive reliance on these lean communications mediums can be potentially dangerous, or at least limiting,” Northcraft said.
He says the findings suggest that businesses should balance use of e-mail with face-to-face meetings to “recharge” relationships and the trust they instill.
The research appeared in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, a leading journal.