Pry your people away from their screens

businessman staring at computer screenWhen employees enjoy socializing with each other and engage in informal conversation, they’re more productive. Research shows a link between workplace sociability and individual productivity.

Audrey Lister, a partner at Chicago law firm Alan Johnson Miller and Associates, recalls that when she joined the firm 20 years ago, she would chat with colleagues all the time. The topics would range from business to personal, and she enjoyed the camaraderie that flowed from frequent casual banter.

Today, however, Lister finds that such chitchat occurs far less. Im­­promptu conversations have been displaced by on­­line communication.

“Young lawyers feel they can accomplish more if they sit and work in front of their screens,” she says.

To encourage her team to reap the benefits of face-to-face conversation, Lister looks for ways to separate them from their smartphones, tablets and computer monitors. She invites young attorneys to her office to listen as she conducts important calls with clients. She wants them to hear how she negotiates or handles a sensitive matter.

Tough Talks D

Concerned about employees’ preference for emailing rather than picking up the phone or initiating a face-to-face chat, Lister and her partners studied the relationship between socializing and money. They found that those lawyers who spent more time with clients generated more revenue for the firm.

Lister’s performance reviews of junior attorneys now include how much time they spend socializing and meeting informally with clients. She says she wants “people to think twice when they put off having lunch with clients so they can work alone at their screens.”

—Adapted from Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle, Penguin Press.