Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s a cheap, quick, and easy fix. Project teams need to reduce the online chatting and increase the face-to-face chatting.

As the developer of Smart Projex, a cloud-based project tool, I have argued for years that face-to-face conversation is an important and increasingly declining aspect of project work.

Project teams need to reduce the online chatting and increase the face-to-face chatting. Share on X

I recently read a New York Times op-ed piece by Sherry Turkle, professor at M.I.T., in the Science, Technology and Society program, titled Stop Googling. Let’s Talk. She writes about her concern after years of research that online chatting is reducing empathy and creating disengagement among young people.

One highly popular project collaboration tool, Slack, is not alone in promoting effective online collaboration as the secret to project success. Take for example this excerpt from Slack’s website:

Team communication for the 21st century.

Organize your team conversations in open channels. Make a channel for a project, a topic, a team, or anything—everyone has a transparent view of all that’s going on.

To reach a colleague directly, send them a Direct Message. It’s completely private and secure.

For sensitive information, create private Groups and invite a few team members. No one else can see or join your Private Groups.

There is nothing wrong with the objective of making online communications easier, and cataloguing and indexing online conversations so that people can refer back to them. In fact, it is a noble objective.

The problem that I have is in thinking that conversations and chats in an online fashion are a replacement for talking face-to-face, or at least by video chat.

Additionally, there is a temptation to believe that having a searchable, online record of what was said somehow makes what was said more valid.

Don't fall for the notion that written ideas are necessarily more valid. They are still ideas. Share on X

According to Professor Turkle’s research, there are two big problems that are occurring in the world today as people, particularly young people, move to more online conversations.

Empathy declines when people stop talking to other people face-to-face.

The good news is that people are resilient and spending a few days together, without phones and computers, quickly improves empathy. Empathy is badly needed in our world today and essential on highly effective project teams.

If we can’t put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, our bosses, or our teammates, we risk spending time, energy, and money on the wrong activities at the wrong times.

Without empathy, project teams risk spending time, energy, and money on the wrong activities. Share on X

Even a silent phone positioned near people changes their conversation.

According to the research that she sites, people stay on safer subjects and they don’t feel as invested in the conversation when a phone is visible.

Project team conversations are a place where teams need to dig down and look for greater efficiencies, risks, lessons learned, and solutions to big problems. Doing this in an online chat deprives participants of complete focus and the honest emotions that arise in complex problem solving.

Even a silent phone positioned near people changes their conversation. Share on X

Those that know me best understand that I have long embraced technology. When a former boss wouldn’t buy me a laptop, I bought my own first edition, Compaq portable, and dragged that 25-pound baby back and forth to work with me every day. I stood in grocery store lines with my portable electronic check writer before debit cards existed. I still take meeting notes in Evernote, knowing that having that laptop present can change the conversation.

When I developed Smart Projex, I spent a lot of time trying to understand the role that technology should best play in project management. And I built into the software very defined meeting formats so that teams would organize their meetings as effectively as possible.

I did this at a time when other software vendors were increasingly moving towards electronic communications because I strongly believe that well-structure meetings are important.

As Professor Turkle writes: “We can also redesign technology to leave more room for talking to each other…. This is our moment to acknowledge the unintended consequences of the technologies to which we are vulnerable, but also to respect the resilience that has always been ours. We have time to make corrections and remember who we are — creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships, of conversations, artless, risky and face to face.”

Smart Projex is still in its infancy. It was developed for teams that want those risky, artless, face-to-face conversations that are desperately needed if we really want our teams to solve complex problems in a rapidly changing world.

Want to talk?

Photo Credit: Hubspot