I’ve referred to that line, “High tech, high touch,” from Alvin Tofflers book Future Shock often. Toffler defined “Future Shock” as “A personal perception of too much change in too short of time.” He also coined the term “Information overload.”
His term “high tech, high touch” lead into his discussion of one of the antidotes to dealing with future shock and information overload. His point was that as we deal more and more with this intrusion of the globally connected, instant on, information overload, we must also make sure we increase the “high touch” right along with it. This high tech world will not work without high touch, trusting, and personal relationships.
Now another influential voice from the past is adding to the chorus. Ray Ozzie is the inventor of Lotus Notes. Lotus Notes was the first successful and commercially viable email system that Ray and Mitch Kapor brought to the marketplace in the mid to late 1980’s. Ray is the grandfather of email.
One of Ray’s latest ventures is “Talko” that is described as an app that combines text messaging, phone calls, voicemails, videos, and picture messaging.
Why does Ray want to combine all of this text, sound, and pictures? The stated goal is richer communication whether the team is around the world or next door. But one statement of Ray’s really strikes me:
“one of the things I’ve learned over the years about collaboration is that one of the most important elements is empathy.” (Emphasis added.)
Now I’m not going to discount Mr. Ozzie’s ability to come up with a technical solution to empathy. And quite honestly, I hope he makes a good run at it. But my guess is that it will take years of refinements (if at all) to be able to “understand and share the feelings of another” as one definition puts it.
I agree with Ray that empathy is one of the most important elements of collaboration and team building. I just don’t believe you can develop empathy while you’re working remotely on a project regardless of the technical capabilities. Even if “remotely” means you’re in the same building but conduct all of your communication electronically. I believe you have to spend time face-to-face being human beings, not human doings. Establish trust and understanding, then you can function remotely and or electronically and collaborate well. But like any muscle, trust and empathy atrophy over time and must be renewed on a regular basis.
Build trust—then collaborate well.