I don’t have data to support this, but at very large companies it’s likely that a majority of the people we know we’ve never met in person. This is especially true with large cross-functional projects where people may reside in multiple buildings. We know so many people only through email, messaging, or a bug tracking system.
You might ask why this a problem. Text is often fraught with peril when it comes to communication. It’s easy to miscommunicate both ideas and emotions. It’s easy to misjudge someone or think ill of them. This could impact how a project progresses.
Here are some radical ideas you can try to implement.
If you find yourself communicating with someone very often via text and visiting them personally is difficult or not an option (e.g. they are in another country), pick up the phone and call them. In cases where you’re about to write a complicated email, perhaps you could save time just explaining over the phone and answering questions rather than having an endless back and forth email.
Perhaps someone that comes across cold in email is actually a very animated, friendly person. It can help one’s mood to make personal connections like that.
Whenever I’m away from my desk and happen to be visiting a building or area I’ve not been to in a long time (or ever), I walk around and look at all the office nameplates. If I recognize the name, I’ll say a quick hello. Sometimes the quick hello turns into an interesting conversation. Sometimes you have pre-conceived notions of someone that are dispelled when you talk to them in person.
A friend and co-worker who shall remain nameless once came to my office after being frustrated with a back and forth in the bug tracking system. I could tell he was annoyed with me, but we eventually resolved the issue and he left satisfied. Later, he told me that after meeting me in person he was surprised at how reasonable a person I was.
This kind of interaction makes people feel more connected and in general, I think people have a better impression of others when talking in person versus seeing their thoughts only in text.
So, next time you are walking around, check the nameplates and say Hi to some people.
Also, see Using social networking at work.