These days, it seems like there’s an app tailor-made to suit an entrepreneur’s every need. Online tools and digital aides have revolutionized even the smallest details of day-to-day business; we’ve exchanged in-person office chats for conversations conducted over platforms like Slack and Skype, traded in the overstuffed file cabinet for intangible cloud libraries, and swapped out old-school conventions for tech-powered innovations.
For the most part, the shift has been a positive change, one that has empowered us to be more efficient, effective, and innovative at work by cutting down on the time we might waste by tackling tasks “the old-fashioned way.” Tech tools are undeniably useful -- so long as entrepreneurs understand that technology alone will not propel them towards success.
But old-fashioned doesn’t have to mean outdated. There are particular situations where analog corporate traditions often prove more valuable than the most cutting-edge apps.
You could send an email or a nicely-worded newsletter to express your appreciation for a client’s business -- but how meaningful would that mass-applied gesture be? No matter how much time you pour into crafting a thoughtful digital message, an email will never be as impactful as an in-person meeting or physical card. The Internet might help us make superficial connections in an instant, but it doesn’t create the interpersonal bond that even a simple handshake or in-person conversation can create.
Moreover, entrepreneurs who take the time to make those offline gestures and build a stronger rapport with their clients may see long-term returns on their efforts. According to researchers for Bain & Company, businesses that up their customer retention rates by even 5% stand to increase their profits by anywhere between 25% and 95%. The benefits can go beyond profit alone, too -- as one writer for Forbes describes in an article on the subject: “A client who determines you’re in it for the long haul, and that you’re actively motivated to help him or her succeed, soon begins to see you as more than just a vendor or supplier. You become a partner in their enterprise and someone they grow to value today, tomorrow and in the years to come.”
Is the in-person office an outdated relic, or a modern necessity? Given the rise of instant messaging apps and secure cloud-based platforms, some might argue that there is no need for a brick-and-mortar office -- not when employees from across the world can log in remotely.
Connectivity, however, does not always translate into productivity. Take Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban remote working in 2013 as an example; after seeing the company’s mostly-empty offices, Mayer checked the company’s VPN logs to see just how many “remote” employees were signing on for work each day. Her findings were underwhelming -- and ultimately drove her to cancel Yahoo’s remote policy altogether.
Remote working’s woes don’t stop with slacking. Research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that employees who work remotely are more likely to feel left out and mistreated. As one researcher describes, remote workers “worry that coworkers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities.” This trend can contribute to the development of a poor company culture, which can, in turn, lead to disengagement and lesser productivity.
Having an in-person office allows a business to become a community. The shared space facilitates innovation, promotes collaboration, and helps create a shared sense of purpose.
Even the CEOs for tech companies can’t afford to work behind a digital wall. Leaders need to be available, involved, and -- most importantly -- visible to their employee base. Brilliance and tech-facilitated messages can only carry entrepreneurs so far without personal charisma. In a 2017 article for Inc, leadership consultant Marcel Schwantes describes this digitally-sequestered style of leadership as an “invisible executive syndrome,” noting that it can cause cultural symptoms for an entire business.
Step out from behind the IM avatar. A smile and a receptive ear mean far more to employees than a faceless email ever will. CEOs who want to set the foundation for a robust company culture should consider maintaining an open-door policy and holding periodic town halls; both tactics will make employees feel listened to and valued.
There’s no doubt that tech is convenient and necessary in today’s business landscape -- but it will never supplant interpersonally-driven business tactics, “old fashioned” though they might be.