Monday Musings

Working with Generation Mute

Every Monday morning the team at ConnectX, including an occasional guest, deliberate on a challenges of leadership and culture. These papers represent the output of our weekly discussions. They are sometimes pure musings, but sometimes we cannot resist airing recommendations. Primarily though, we intend to stimulate thought around issues that most leaders will face at some time or other. We welcome your feedback!

24 Jan '18

Working with Generation Mute

Imagine an office where no one talks! No one meets for a status meeting, a brainstorm or a planning meeting! Where you know someone’s email address and twitter handle and not their face!

Wait, it is already happening.

In a 2017 survey by Ofcom, UK’s communication authority, only 15% of millennials found a phone call to be an important method of communication, compared with 36% who prefer instant messaging.

Face to face communication is slowly diminishing and it is being replaced by other forms of communication. Today’s generation prefer to text and email rather than meet.

So what are the implications, pros and cons, of working with generation mute?

The biggest advantage of working with generation mute is their ability to work and collaborate in virtual teams. If they have to do a project with five people all in different continents, they will do it well. They will leave a good communication trail that can be followed. Electronic communication also increases the frequency of their communication, even going beyond time rules.

The informality of the digital conversation reduces barriers of social bias and creates an ease of building relationships faster. It is harder to assess consensus and message understanding in electronic messages especially when voice and interaction is absent.

Being a part of generation mute favors introverts who would prefer to be left alone to work.

The biggest disadvantage of working with generation mute is the absence of clarity. Electronic communication often misses out on the non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures and eye cues. The act of ‘copying’ and ‘blind copying’ everyone, known “save your behind” tactic is used by some to mitigate this.

From a culture perspective, authentic engagement of a team can be difficult if they are all behind an electronic device. For employees, visibility and standing out in ones career is also greatly assisted by face-to-face interactions with stakeholders; be they customers, peers or leaders. The right balance is required for a vibrant authentic organizational culture to develop. In our view several ways may be used to achieve this balance. These include;

  • By creating of interesting and compulsory forums that bring employees together at work either as select teams, individuals or as the entire organization, face-to-face interaction can be increased. This forums should take into account the factors that attract generation mute e.g. informal, focused, short term engagement that generate participation.
  • Incentives for face-to-face interaction such as winning points for attending non-compulsory forums can also be used to achieve this much-needed balance.
  • Generation mutes preference for electronic communication can also be leveraged through face-to-face interactions that integrate electronic communication elements such as the silent disco format while bringing the ‘warmth’ that is brought about by human contact. 

In words of Charles Dickens, “electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.”

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