Marketers know well the benefits of the digital age. After all, we’ve spent years trying to get consumers to tag, repost, comment, like, and share. But we often overlook the toll technology takes on our work.

How many times have you had lunch with a coworker who couldn’t stop looking at their smartphone? Struggled to get a person’s attention over a pair of headphones? Received a Slack message from someone sitting two desks down? Or sat in separate offices—on the same floor—during a client conference call?

In my 20-plus years working at PR agencies, I’ve never seen people more disconnected.

In offices meant to be collaborative, people work near one another but not together, building walls instead of relationships. Loneliness is spreading as technology supersedes human connections. I’ve seen fewer people going to lunch together, grabbing drinks after work, or even chit chatting during the day.

A colleague of mine just mentioned how she feels like she is intruding on someone’s space when walking over to their desk and would rather use Slack to talk to them.

The human connection is waning as we choose digital interactions over in-person conversations and speed and convenience at the expense of human relationships. That’s bad for people and bad for business. But there is a solution: Bring the human back to work.

If once, the challenge was digitizing the workplace, now the challenge is to humanize it—to opt for face time over screen time, to talk IRL instead of messaging, and to manage relationships, not notifications.

Dan Schawbel, a partner and research director at Future Workplace believes humanizing the workplace is the key to developing a winning culture with engaged, connected, and empowered employees.

In his book, Back to Human, Schawbel offer leaders three tips to promote open communication. First, make everyone commit to being open and accessible. Second, champion real-time feedback. Finally, share priorities. It increases the chances of accomplishing them and encourages the team to get on board.

Erica Keswin, author of Bring Your Human to Work, says “Bring our human to work is both about putting technology in its place to build strong relationships and about inviting technology to the table.”

It’s ironic that technology meant to bring us closer, often drives us apart. Still, some companies are finding inventive ways to use technology to build human connections.

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group uses Apple Watches to improve waitstaff communications. Slow-food restaurant Sweetgreen uses technology to track customer preferences so one server, rather than an assembly line, can fill an order. Designer Rebecca Minkoff’s smart dressing rooms help her offer personalized service to customers based on their preferences.

Bringing the human back to work in 2019 will help us put technology in its place, build stronger relationships, and increase productivity. We must use technology as a tool to grow relationships not stifle them. And we can’t rely on leadership alone. It’s up to each individual to engage their colleagues and unleash their human each day.

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