Maintaining a Personal Touch in a Wired World

Two weeks ago I wrote about mobile technology and its value in the retail industry as part of mobile recruiting week on Blogging4Jobs. I spent a lot of time reflecting on how technology has altered how we communicate in HR while writing that piece and reading every other blog that week. Anywhere our mobile phones receive a signal, we may conduct business. This entails using a smartphone to react to emails while on vacation, relaxing on a beach, or texting advice to a problematic employee while in line at the grocery store.

With all this remote communication via mobile device, it seems that we are losing connection with the benefits of a personal touch in our HR communication. I’m not arguing that more people using technology is a negative thing, but we must remember to balance technological use with genuine face-to-face interaction. We’ll look at a few strategies for finding that balance in today’s post.

When Email or Text Isn’t the Right Medium

How many of you have engaged in this behavior? When someone doesn’t comply with a request, you send them an email with a CC to their boss. They respond, mention anything you neglected to accomplish, and add your manager to the CC list. You CC a few more people in your response and include a copy of one of their older emails for good measure. It turns into a lengthy, multi-email passive-aggressive exchange with CCs that rival an Oscars acceptance speech.

I am aware that I have previously fought in conflicts of this nature. It doesn’t accomplish anything and just serves to enrage people. Picking up the phone and calling someone or going to meet with them in person is considerably more successful. It’s critical to understand when non-technological communication methods work best.

Sometimes Electronic Silence is Golden

I once worked under a manager who made it a point to have weekly one-on-one meetings with each of her direct reports. In principle, the meetings were excellent. We may assess our ongoing initiatives and discuss any issues that had arisen. She normally kept her landline off and would close the door, but she would always have her cell phone on. Regardless of who was speaking to her, she would pause the conversation mid-sentence and attend to her phone if it rang or signified a new email or text message. It was annoying, and it frequently led to me losing my focus.

Most of us have encountered this kind of person at work. In actuality, some of us might occasionally engage in such actions. We have grown so accustomed to using our mobile devices that we occasionally fail to consider how distracting it can be for the person we are speaking with, particularly if that person is an employee in our office discussing a harassment situation, a request for a leave of absence, or another issue related to the workplace. Picking up your phone during such a meeting sends the message that whatever is on the other end of the text, email or call is more important than what the employee is saying.

When I have a meeting with someone, I have a habit of putting my phone in a drawer or my purse. In fact, I frequently refrain from bringing my phone to meetings. I take away the distraction because I am the type of person who will check my phone if it is in front of me. Additionally, I always make sure my phone is on silent before entering a meeting where I need to wait for something urgent.

Striking a Balance

Plan regular meetings with employees in addition to electronic communication to benefit from in-person interactions. This involved traveling to the company’s locations, wandering the halls, and speaking with employees when I worked in HR for mid-sized businesses.

When you need to share detailed information or follow up on a meeting, email can be excellent, and texting quick questions can save you time. Knowing when to respond electronically and when to communicate informally is the key to effective communication.

Sometimes it is good to disconnect all together. Technology might provide the impression that we must constantly react instantly. It can give seemingly unimportant questions a sense of urgency. Therefore, finding a balance can often be as easy as marking an email for a later response or just turning off work email on your phone for the evening.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.

Reader Interactions


  1. Melanie Shebel says

    I’ve been in meetings where someone’s phone keeps going off and even if they’re just reading a text, it really just breaks up the train of thought/speech going on. I almost never have my phone on when I’m meeting.

    And yeah, there are plenty of times when emailing isn’t the best solution. Sometimes I spend an hour typing up an email, including screenshots with text typed on the screenshot and arrows (everything, really), when I could just explain the situation in-person in less than two minutes.

  2. jaykayess says

    I completely agree with the key points of this article. What I’m amazed at, though, is that such articles are necessary in the first place! I mean, isn’t this common sense? Has everyone gone crazy – sending emails to your colleague in the adjacent cubicle – or am I a dinosaur?



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