Forget FaceTime, Let’s Hear it for Face-to-Face Time  

Why human interaction matters more than ever in a digital era—and what you can do about it.

A new type of co-worker is changing office life: Cognitive computing. Yes, human-to-machine collaboration is in the collective future, and digital solutions are already affecting the way we interact with each other in the present moment – but advances in technology, no matter how great, do not displace the need for human-to-human interaction at work; in contrary, it reinforces it.

While this may make simple sense to many of us, it’s important to recognize that the liquid workforce combined with new ways of living and working make the value of in-person engagement more evident to some of us, than to others. According to a new research, two thirds of teens would rather chat online than in person. But it doesn’t mean they don’t want to come face to face. They privilege human interaction for things which matter the most – socializing. As we prepare for the future of work, it’s important for workplace leaders to understand the depth of the people’s need for an authentic human experience—while also embracing the many benefits of digitalization, too.

In an era where we can engage with one another via screen in any number of mediums, it comes down to the power of sparking human experience at work.

How a sensory, interactive workplace can power a human experience

Humans are inherently social animals. Some research, for example, suggests that the age of digitization is making people feel lonelier, with loneliness currently affecting one-fifth of the U.S. population. If people feel disconnected to each other at work, they may also be less likely to share ideas—the lifeblood of innovation.

By contrast, a workplace where people are inspired to share in person is less likely to lead to loneliness, and more likely to boost productivity. A face-to-face meeting, for instance, is considered more effective than email—34 times more so in fact, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

To engage people in an increasingly digital world, we need to help show that being human matters. Recent research, Workplace, powered by Human Experience, has found that nourishing, people-oriented environments are in high demand. Of the 7,000 survey takers we heard from, more than a third say personalization of workplace is essential, and more than 40 percent report they’d do better work every day if they had choice between a range of workspaces built to suit the various tasks at hand.

People are craving a unique mix of sensory experiences, over uniformity. Too often, our senses are stifled by stuffy, one-size-fits-all cubicles. In the dawning age of robotics, a humanized space can matter more than you think. Ambiences that stimulate our senses can inspire us to meet our potential, to get more creative, and to engage with one another for the greater good. That means offering a mix of places where people can convene, from inviting social spots, to formal meeting rooms, in addition to good heads-down space for those moments when our inner voice needs time to itself.

Humanizing principles in action

A human-centered workplace can come in all shapes and sizes.

Here are some other inspiring examples of humanizing the workplace to help whet your own imagination:

  • Clear sightlines help bring people together. Sky, the broadcasting and telecommunications company, has humanized its West London headquarters. Picture light, open mezzanine floors extending over an expansive atrium, complete with trees, informal sitting areas and large screens. Part of the concept—to bring creative and corporate talent under one roof–is made manifest by elements like clear sightlines, easy places for casual encounters on the broad staircase, and clusters of neighborhoods where teams can gather.
  • Create a workspace for people to come together and work together. One of the most impressive examples came from the revolutionary concept of DBS in Singapore. Breaking the traditional workplace codes to design a working environment for the people by the people. The buzz of the space is high, the communication channels are direct, and the workplace resemble a public space where people interact with each other all the time.
  • Promote face to face interaction. We must see each other and move out of the cubicles. The physical proximity is essential to boost communication in an open space. I work in an environment with few partitions and no separation between the desks. We took everything away. It works wonderfully; it promotes verbal interaction and guess what? We get used to it, of course. We love seeing each other and having the ability for a quick on the spot exchange. Life at work is better without physical barriers around us.
  • Provide many spaces to chill out. We all like a great coffee or cup of tea, grabbing fresh fruit from the basket and sitting down like at home. It is crucial to provide your employees a place where they can relax, have an informal meeting in a space which does not resemble an office environment. I was extremely impressed by the new Facebook Campus which is crying out with an immensely diverse working environment. Above all, the quality of their breakout spaces is simply amazing.
  • Integrate technology wherever possible without compromising the quality of life of employees. Too much technology can kill the tremendous benefits of technology. It is too easy to have tech solutions in every corner of an office without measuring its value to the users. How many times have you in a meeting room where you were not able to connect to the screen, the digital white board, print content you produced and end up bringing in a flip chart? Technology is great when it is carefully selected, easy to use and interactive. Otherwise forget it!

Looking ahead: Balancing human elements with the promise of digitalization

People do best around other people. Technology today is part of our world and it is not going to go away. One great application of digitalization is that it can help bring us together—when we leverage technology with the human experience in mind. We must lift up our people and thoughtful workplace design combined with an intelligent use of digital solutions in the workplace can enable us to achieve a human centered workplace and a digitally enabled work life.

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