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I have been teaching a course on internship dynamics this summer to a group of mainly undergraduates visiting from the US who are working in various internships around Brussels this summer.  These companies range from museums and start-ups through to international organizations and major corporations.

In the midst of our wrap-up discussions yesterday, we got into the subject of organizational design and the use of technology.  In particular, we were discussing task allocation and responsibilities.  We talked about shared resources, e-mail, Skype and other concall approaches.  And then one young woman said it all for me, in that she blurted out: ‘I just want to pick up phone and talk’ (to my boss).

So much of automation has taken the humanization out of the work experience.  Exchanges of documents and data are no substitute for discussion and dialog.  But given time zones and endless meetings, the ability just to sit down and discuss, or schedule a one on one discussion, is very difficult these days.  So you write a mail, or a memo, and many nuances get lost.

Although my generation makes fun of millennials with their phone habits, I fear we are teaching them bad habits by not being there for them to share experience and create a frank and open exchange.  Inspiring the next generation requires us to be a part of the dialog, so we can mutually value each others contributions.

In watching the environment around me, I see the younger workers supporting each other, and not so much of their management being around to guide and support.  Perhaps this is due to the loss of middle management roles as mentors vs. being administrators and professional ‘meeting attendees’.  Most of those I know in middle management are struggling to keep their jobs and focus on improving their visibility/relevance to those above them, not those coming up behind.

Have we gone too digital, in that analog ways are becoming irrelevant?  Just my thoughts after this discussion group…..

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