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. Writing that post and reading all the other blogs that week got me thinking a lot about how technology has changed the way we communicate in HR. We can do business wherever our mobile phones get a signal. This means responding to emails by smart phone while sitting on a beach during a vacation or texting advice on a problem employee while waiting 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 saying increased use of technology is a bad thing, but we need to remember to strike a balance between technology and good, old-fashioned face-to-face contact. In today’s post, we will look at some ways to find that balance.

When Email or Text Isn’t the Right Medium

How many of you have been guilty of this? Someone does not follow through on a request, so you send them an email and CC their manager. They reply, include your manager on the CC list and mention something you forgot to do. You reply with a copy of an old email of theirs and CC a few more people for good measure. It escalates into a multi-email passive-aggressive battle with a CC list as long as an Oscars acceptance speech.

I know I have been involved in such battles in the past. It is not productive and it only serves to get people riled up. It is much more effective to either pick up the phone and call someone or go meet with them face-to-face. It is important to recognize situations like this where low-tech means of communication are best.

Sometimes Electronic Silence is Golden

Long ago I had a supervisor who made a point of scheduling weekly one-on-one meetings with each of her direct reports. The meetings were great in theory. We could review our current projects and go over questions that had come up. The door would be closed, and she would usually silence her landline, but she would always have her cell phone on. If it rang or signaled a new email or text message, she would stop the conversation mid-sentence and tend to her phone regardless of who it was. It was distracting and would often cause me to lose my train of thought.

Most of us have worked with this type of person. In fact, some of us may be guilty of such behavior from time to time. We have come to rely on our mobile devices so much that we sometimes forget how distracting it can be to the people we are talking to—especially if that is an employee in our office talking about a harassment situation, request for a leave of absence or other workplace concern. 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.

I make a habit of putting my phone in my bag or a drawer when I am meeting with someone. In fact, I often won’t take the phone into the room when going to a meeting. I am the kind of person that will check my phone if it’s in front of me, which is why I remove the distraction. And if I have to take my phone into a meeting because I am waiting for something urgent, I always ensure it is on silent.

Striking a Balance

Along with electronic communication, schedule regular meetings with employees, so you get the benefit of face-to-face interactions. When I was working in HR for mid-sized companies, this meant visiting the company’s locations, walking around and talking to employees.

Email can be great when you want to relay detailed information or following up on a meeting, and responding to quick questions via text can be a time saver. The key is to knowing when it is the right time to respond electronically and when it is better to communicate the old-fashioned way.

Sometimes it is good to disconnect all together. Technology can make it feel like we always have to respond right away. It can lend a certain sort of urgency to minor questions. So sometimes striking a balance can be as simple as flagging an email for a response at a later time or simply deactivating work email on your phone for the night.

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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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