How is technology changing the way we work – and what lessons can we learn from how things have always been done? In his latest article, our HR Consultant, Joe Glover, explores how we can embrace the new, without forgetting the old.

Last week, I saw someone I went to University with. I smiled as I passed them in the supermarket – and they did everything they could to avoid my gaze. Maybe they didn’t recognise me, were in a rush, or just didn’t want to speak to me. But, later that evening, my evasive acquaintance sent me a Facebook message: ’Hi Joe, fancy bumping in to you earlier! Long-time no speak!’

Perplexed, I asked, why they hadn’t spoken to me in person earlier. The response I received both confused and frustrated me: ‘I just thought it would be easier to drop you a message on here, hope you don’t mind’.

It got me wondering. Are we now so connected, that we’ve become disconnected? Have emojis replaced emotion?

Before we go any further, this isn’t a piece about millennials in the workplace. The world doesn’t need another article about technology being the future of Human Resources (trust me there’s tonnes out there, each with a similar stock photo of a disgruntled professional looking pensively at a social media logo…)

So, what can we learn from my (non)encounter?

Well, we can deduce that this individual isn’t a big fan of personal interaction. But, is this slowly becoming the case for us all? I’m very sociable – but I couldn’t tell you the last time I set foot in a bank, or ordered a takeaway by speaking to another human. Why? Because its ‘easier’ not too.

And, if artificial intelligence is reinventing everything around us, what teachings from history remain relevant today?

Let’s take leadership as an example, and go back to 500 BC, when Sun Tzu (in The Art of War) said, ‘If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly un­derstood, then the general is to blame’. Although this was written over 2,500 years ago, the meaning is contemporary: if a message lacks clarity, or isn’t fully understood, the desired outcome won’t be achieved.

As Peter F. Drucker, the ‘founder of modern management’ puts it, ‘the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said’. But, if we can’t physically hear what is being said, how can we understand what isn’t?

And what about the workplace community? The move away from face to face communication reduces the ability to interact with others on a personal level. As a result, key objectives can be underestimated or missed.

If you’re not in a client facing role, technology can allow you to complete your responsibilities from the comfort of your home. But, will this heightened connectivity be the downfall of team cohesion? Citrix and VPN’s come with an abundance of advantages: from being able to concentrate on a piece of work, to waiting for the washing machine to be delivered.

But, does homeworking have its disadvantages? It can be isolating – whereas the workplace can be a place to meet people and develop relationships, both professionally and socially.

Amalgamating the old and the new will be key to our future success, and we can do this by taking on a responsible work ethic. By embedding the right principles and standards into organisational culture, we can embrace the power of A.I – without forgetting the wisdom of yesteryear.

Technology may be the future. But, human acumen is driving it. Technology isn’t the destination, or even the vehicle – it’s an instrument of assistance. To stay relevant, we must collaborate with technology, rather than be absorbed by it.

So, whether you’re a digital migrant or a digital native, try your best not to become a digital hermit.