Monday, February 05, 2007


The Need For Trust Trumps Telecommuting

The availability of myriad electronic devices for communicating with others doesn't decrease the need for face-to-face contact, but actually inflames it, according to Slate magazine. Devices such as email and cellphones don't just connect us to people we already know. They expand our circle of friends and acquaintances, causing a likewise expansion in the number of people we feel a need to meet, either out of curiosity or in the old-fashioned business sense of having to look a potential partner in the eye before closing a deal. This expansion of present and future personal contacts is coupled with the mobility provided to us by our communications tools. For not only can we keep in contact with more people more easily than ever, we can keep in contact with them while we travel. None of us has to sit by the telephone in the hallway waiting for a call, or even by the computer waiting for an email. We can take our Blackberries, our cellphones, and our wireless laptops wherever we go. And where we want to go, more than ever, is to meet those folks we've previously known only electronically.

The primary reason for meeting one's business partners is, of course, the need for trust. While Slate neatly describes the paradox of how increased means of reaching people remotely fuels our compulsion to meet them in person, it doesn't directly address another paradox. The age of email and the cellphone has also become the age in which businesspeople have become less trustworthy than ever before. The conveniences of modern life have facilitated ruthlessness as much as they have anything else, and if we feel more than ever a need to trust the people we work for, or who work for us, it doesn't just reflect the persistence of human nature. Something about the modern economy has actually made us worse. This is something corporate cost-cutters should consider when they seek to replace face-to-face meetings with teleconferences, and a handshake with an email - at the same time that they are downsizing the workforce and padding their portfolios. The very ethos of their cost-cutting has made the overhead of looking the other guy in the eye an irreducible expense.

"The Distance Paradox" from Slate

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