Cooler Chats

Experts say personal interaction in the workplace is healthy.

From Prohibition and Model-Ts to vaccines and laparoscopic surgeries, a lot has changed over the last hundred years. But changes and advances in technology have forever altered the world as we once knew it.

It’s been 135 years since the master patent for the telephone was filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Alexander Graham Bell. But the major leaps and bounds in technology have come in just the last several decades. From desktop computers, car phones and netbooks to smart phones, iPads and Kindles, each passing day brings new technology to our fingertips. We can hold a web-conference with co-workers in another country by day and Skype with relatives in another state by night. We are a nation, a world, that is connected 24/7, but are we really communicating or are we hiding behind our electronics?

“Personally, I think there is something lost because people have a hard time communicating. The emailing and texting and instant messaging … parents even text their kids to come down for dinner instead of calling out to them,” said Kim Brandt, a psychologist currently working with children and young adults in schools in and around Lansing, Mich. “There is even some research that says there should be a class in elementary school that should teach kids how to communicate with each other.”

Communication may not be an elementary school class right now, but it is something we are taught from the people and the world around us. We learn from our parents, our classmates, teachers and TV. But it’s more than just a friendly wave hello or a quick email giving directions to a team member for the day. According to, communication is an act or instance of transmitting or conveying information, and/or a process or system by which information is exchanged. That broad definition is how so many people working at so many different companies can take advantage of communication and get the job done.



Blue-collar workers are still out there, laboring side by side, but a large number of Americans now spend their days in front of a computer. Communication for these people usually comes in the written form via text message, email or instant message. Some people, like Lane Rees, even work remotely in an office of one, utilizing the phone and these written forms of communication to conduct business with co-workers and clients from day to day.

Rees is the president of Human Resource Solutions Inc. in Santa Rosa Beach. For more than 20 years, he worked with Atlantic Richfield — also known as ARCO — the world’s largest oil company. Now, he and his eight-person team at HRS Inc. help companies, both large and small, with everything HR.

“We’ve worked with mom and pops, people who have 4–5 employees, and then with my team we’ve done work for larger companies,” he said.

Rees is able to see the good and bad of technology-driven communications from both sides, since he runs a small business himself and helps others. He says regardless of the size, all companies need to share their purpose, visions and goals with their employees. He says employees need to know the strategic thinking of the company.

“Some of these employees don’t have a good handle of how what they do impacts the organization for which they are working,” he says.



With ‘6G’ Smart phones and Internet access at our fingertips, it is easy for us to stay connected.

CenturyLink is one of a growing number of companies that has implemented ideas and policies to make sure everyone is on the same page. As a telecommunications company that provides Internet, phone and television services, CenturyLink has employees across the United States.

“Our technology — broadband in particular — has made it possible for us to connect with more people in more places on a more personal level. It has added to the interaction rather than taken away from it as the face-to-face conversations among people in the same geographic location are still happening,” said Carmen Butler, market development manager at CenturyLink. “Instant messaging, video conferencing and webcasts have made it possible for us to build additional relationships that we may not have otherwise developed by connecting us easily and frequently with our colleagues in other areas.”

humanelement_importanceofwhy3 Computer isolation – Many workers spend their day tied to a computer in a small cubicle and are losing their ability to communicate.


For years now, we have utilized all that technology has to offer to connect with one another, but can the written word truly relay a message as well as humans can verbally? Psychologist Kim Brandt says no.

“We communicate verbally more than you’re aware of. You can say you’re not angry, but your face will betray you. As you get older, you gain the ability to check yourself, but children don’t have that ability,” she said.

Often times, though, Brandt says adults can slip and show their true feelings without saying a word. This is where the term “poker face” comes into play. Some people can block any physical expression of their inner feelings, but others’ body language gives them away.

Brandt says that is why some people like to hide behind their computers. It’s an easy way to be bold. For employers, however, Brandt says it’s important to be personable from behind a monitor and keyboard. The boss needs to know his employees and show them he’s there if they need him.

“I think it’s nice because I like to know who I’m working with. You don’t have to be friends, but they [employers] at least have to respect you and know your name,” Brandt says.



With access to anyone and everyone, day or night, many people are able to feel like they are never alone. Social networking sites, especially, allow users to keep in touch anytime, anywhere.

“I feel like people don’t feel lonely because you have access to Facebook so you can text [friends, co-workers or family members] and they will answer, even in the middle of the night,” Brandt said.

Regardless of the changing times, the ever-increasing pace of the “rat-race” and the advances in technology, we are hard-wired to need interaction with other humans. Child and adult psychologist Dr. Edward Hallowell called it the “human moment,” which in its simplest form, he says, is any live, human interaction.

In his article “The Human Moment at Work,” published in 1999 in the Harvard Business Review, Hallowell explains that businesses need to utilize human interaction, at least from time to time. He says, “A human interaction can solidify a relationship or clarify a transaction in ways nothing else can.” In fact, Hallowell considers human interaction the most powerful communications tool we have.

Both Lane Rees and Carmen Butler agree, which is why both of their companies do as much as they can to encourage employees to interact face to face.

“I think a retreat format is one way to bring people together. Staff meetings. Stand up meetings to start off the day is a good way to do that,” said Rees.

Rees also gets his own employees together for some face time. “We do try to get together once or twice a month, so when we are together we can communicate.”

According to Butler, CenturyLink makes face-to-face interaction a priority and utilizes in-person meetings in groups and one-on-one along with what she calls “water cooler conversations.”

“At our office we celebrate birthdays and holidays together. Our Community Relations Team coordinates local volunteer efforts where employees coordinate and work on community projects as a team.”

Once a year, Butler said that CenturyLink gathers employees from Leon, Wakulla, Madison and Jefferson counties together for an Employee Appreciation Luncheon and holds what it calls all-hands meetings where employees from different states and working groups gather for planning and team-building.

Meeting and talking face-to-face is also the best way to say what you mean and mean what you say — and not have it misconstrued by the recipient.

“I think it happens a lot, especially in the workplace. You interpret [a co-worker’s or boss’] emails differently based on your feelings toward them,” said Brandt. “Negativity is so much harsher in writing because you don’t want anyone to criticize you.”

Many of you are now thinking back to the last email or text you wrote. Was it mean? Was it rude? Was it sarcastic? Did the person receiving your message interpret it as you had hoped? All of these questions are valid in a world of written communication and all could be answered or become null and void if you had actually talked to the person you sent the message to.



Imagine working in a small, dark cubicle all day compared to a spacious, well-lit office. Which one would you choose? Most everyone would select option No. 2 and for good reason. Camaraderie makes us laugh, smile and lightens the mood. Howell goes so far as to say that “great joy and peace come from connecting.” Maybe that’s why some companies, including CenturyLink, have a combination of offices, cubicles and open spaces.

Google is one company that has received rave reviews from employees for providing everything from free on-site laundry and dry-cleaning services to free on-site day care and workout opportunities. Now, not everyone at every company can have a car wash, massage and annual physical on-site, free of charge. And, according to Brandt, there’s no significant amount of research yet to support that these perks really do boost productivity. But a free cup of coffee, a place to relax and eat lunch and a little chat time here and there with a work buddy can go a long way to brightening almost anyone’s mood.