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The world as we know it has changed radically in a record two years. Corporate headhunters would have most likely not been able to predict that we would be at home, communicating with co-workers, clients and bosses through emails, chats and Google Meet calls.
This transition invites us to reflect on new technologies and how our communication has evolved. However, beyond understanding the data and growth in social networks, it is also important to analyze the social changes that have arisen due to the increased use of virtual settings.
Attending a birthday, congratulating a relative on their promotion, advising a client on an important decision — these are only some of the multiple actions that we used to perform in person but are now mainly carried out in virtual settings. Actions that previously required a long amount of time, such as commuting to work or waiting for feedback on a report, have now been reduced to seconds. Similarly, transactions that used to take hours can now be resolved in the time it takes to send or receive a message.
Statista data points out that in March 2020, Google Hangouts downloads increased 30 times from one week to another, while the number of Facebook profiles grew by 8.7 percent in 2020. Moreover, the data also notes that 42 percent of U.S. adults socialized digitally with friends and family. This daring leap into the virtual world has left us with changes as a society that we are only just witnessing.
For instance, as more employees get vaccinated, thousands of companies have opted to ask their employees to return to the office. And yet, most employees are not entirely comfortable with this: A study from Harvard Business School indicates that 81 percent of the people who worked remotely in 2020 would prefer not to return to the office or would prefer a hybrid schedule. We may be facing a change of work paradigm.
Our communication with co-workers, clients and others has moved to a new level: One in which we prefer the use of digital platforms, and that has left greater space to complement professional life with time for mental health, fun, rest, family and friends.
Greater research is needed on how the evolution in interpersonal communication and relationships has profoundly affected society. While it is clear that there is a growing trend in the use of virtual platforms, as the figures suggest a significant increase over the last two years, it is also vital to consider the social effects in greater depth and the impact of this fortuitous move has on our interpersonal relationships.
Evidently, our interpersonal relationships have changed over the last two years, but will our ways of interacting with institutions and companies change as well?
It is a pertinent question that needs to be addressed by society because although virtual worlds have brought us together, they have also modified diverse aspects of our lives and can potentially impact the way we interact and communicate with institutions. I’d like to share four key points focused on how business leaders can adapt their communications with both employees and consumers in a way that acknowledges this interpersonal communication shift:
• Be adaptable to change. You need to be flexible when faced with challenges, which involves observing new facts and seeking new forms of leadership. Every day you need to create a culture of connection and communication with your employees and consumers.
• Embrace innovation. There are different ways to achieve goals; using resources in this new digital age means learning new routes to achieve success through innovation. There is no leadership without innovation, and there is no innovation without leadership because innovation requires an emotional force that takes the organization out of its comfort zone.
• Be humble. Not all new technology may be easy to learn or accessible. As a leader, you also have to be part of the learning process.
• Empower others. The new digital world gives space to train workers. In the current context, leadership is required that focuses on the ability to empower others; it is more critical to empower than to concentrate power in a single person. The approach toward a pearl of collective wisdom built by a group is fundamental.
In an era where the virtual world offers endless possibilities, to which we are still getting used to, and interpersonal communication has evolved resulting in social effects, our goal is to understand how social network data will allow us to anticipate trends and changes that the future will bring.