Today's office technology can make us more efficient, but it also tends to alienate. People spend more time each year interfacing with their computers than with their bosses or colleagues. Although an increasing number of workers are on “electronic leashes” (cell phones, pagers, instant messaging, etc.), the more connected we become, the less connection we seem to have to one another.

And then there's e-mail. A recent study by Pitney Bowes found that U.S. workers receive more than 200 messages per day. Of the estimated 20 billion e-mail messages that are sent daily, an estimated 40 percent are unsolicited spam.

What's the impact of all this? A lot, I believe. Here's some advice that can maintain the human element at work even as we make a greater use of technology:

  1. Get to know people before you communicate — Trust and respect are difficult to establish through one-way, electronic communication. Make sure you take time to establish relationships with those you work with first.

  2. Be aware of technology's limitations — Don't have electronic communication replace a personal meeting just for the efficiency of it. Consider when it makes sense to use voice mail or e-mail, for example, and when a personal meeting would be better.

  3. Use electronic communication to enhance relationships — For example, I know a manager who makes a point of using his cell phone to leave thank-you messages as he commutes home each evening. He keeps his messages 100 percent positive and avoids talking about work problems or assignments.

  4. Be creative in how you use technology to include others — Web chats, message boards, and dedicated phone lines for employees to access top management all help employees to be more connected and play an integral role in their organizations. A great example: The Home Depot has weekly satellite feeds to every store called “Breakfast with Bernie and Arthur,” its chairman and CEO. It's a chance for everyone to hear what's new and how things are going.

  5. Use technology to amplify good news — Find ways to instantly pass on good news to your staff. Hughes Network Systems uses an “Applause” electronic pop-up bulletin board on its Intranet system; any employee can post public thanks and recognition to any other employee. Employees get to see the latest thanks being given in the organization each time they log on.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is a frequent presenter at conferences, president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego, and best-selling author of Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You! Do What Needs to Be Done, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, and Managing For Dummies. For more information, visit, call (800) 575-5521, or contact Bob directly at