Impact of Face-to-face and Online Communication on Knowledge Sharing


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Technological advancement has revolutionized the way business is done. This is the digital era of transformation, innovation, globalization and communication where technology evolves fast and information travels even faster. And to sustain in this globally competitive environment, companies are making investment in technology such that it can build and maintain relationships with its customers (both internal and external), facilitate innovation, build teams internationally, bring change, manage behavior and most importantly ensure effective communication. Buckman Laboratory’s knowledge sharing system is an example of online communication strategy (Anderson, 2017). It serves as a example for growth, innovation and connectivity with the use of technology.

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Impact of Interpersonal Communication

Communication is the key to success and interpersonal communication; the interaction between individuals has become even more important over the years. Its primary focus is to transmit information and making sure the other party understands what is being communicated (Adu-Oppong & Agyin-Birikorang, 2014). This is the kind of communication that allows people to share ideas, communicate their feelings and emotions, exchange information and so forth. According to DeKay (2012, p. 449), “recent research has identified interpersonal communication skills as critical attributes for new employees and more experienced workers seeking promotion.” The common interpersonal communications are break room talks, client meetings, project discussions and performance reviews.

We live in the world of digitalization where computer mediated communication has become mainstream in our personal and professional lives. As per the case, Robert Buckman had a hard time extracting and sharing information and ideas because of the cost factor and resistance from the employees (Anderson, 2017). With the global expansion, communication among employees became even more challenging hence, Robert Buckman introduced email that would allow people to share innovative ideas. However, email became a platform for gossip mongers. The main purpose of communication through email was diluted creating more havoc within the organization.

Technology enabled communication is the information age that enables and empowers employees across the world to connect and share information, ideas and much more. It gives new dimension to the way people think and communicate. However, there are certain limitation to the information age such as message not being effectively communicated, lack of motivation among workers, information overload, misuse of data and so forth. According to Van Den Eijnden et al. (2008, p. 655), “online communication is suggested to play a central role in the development of compulsive Internet use.”

While the technology advancement has reshaped the way, we do business and communicate with one another, it has also created a new culture that is different than the workplace. The information age does not allow people to see the facial expression or know the tone in which the message is being sent across that often leads to misunderstanding and creates conflicts. Though the information age is here to make our lives simpler and easier, more and more employees are finding it difficult to have a work life balance. This has led to work related stress, depression and anxiety making people demotivated and reducing their productivity.

Examples of the Dysfunctional Human Dimension for Communication Technologies

Email is one of the most efficient and effective form of communication. It has enabled us to have more diverse and spread-out work teams such that employees can interact and collaborate without the need of face-to-face conversation. However, at Buckman Laboratory, the email system was set up to exchange innovative ideas among employees, but it became a network for gossips and chit chats (Anderson, 2017).

The case also cites other dysfunctional human dimension for communication technologies in terms of change and resistance from managers. According to Rafaeli and Raban (2005, p. 63), “acquiring information and knowledge demand many resources.” When Robert Buckman wanted employees to share written reports with knowledge that they had acquired over the years from working in paper mills, tanneries, and treatment plant, managers refused to participate and did not share the information. And it was not from one resource that information had to be collected, there were many. They did not welcome the idea of knowledge sharing and did not feel the it would bring them any benefit. They even had resentment mainly because they believed they would not be credited for the new innovative ideas they bring to the table.

As per the case, new technology was brought in to allow people to collaborate and connect. According to Mansell (2013, p. 257), “opportunities for collaboration are numerous and it is by no means obvious where authority should be lodged for the curating and linking of data.” The company wanted to bring enterprise level change without really having an effective change management plan. With the global expansion, it was important that all key stakeholders from across the globe had a good understanding and knowledge of the mission and vision of the company. Stakeholders impact analysis and communication plan would help Robert Buckman and his managers to understand the need for change i.e. the use of email system. The people must be ready to adapt and adopt the change to be successful and that can be through effective communication. Managers did not participate in sharing knowledge and resented mainly because they did not know what benefits it would bring to them on an individual level and at an organizational level. One important aspect of knowledge management is to ensure that knowledge is accessible, shared and used by the members of the organization (Paulin & Suneson, 2012). However, in the case of Buckman Laboratories, knowledge management was at a budding stage where employees withheld information and did not share the knowledge.

Employees are the lifeblood of any organization. According to Mayer, Davis & Schoorman (1995, p. 710), “working together often involves interdependence, and people must therefore depend on others in various ways to accomplish their personal and organizational goals.” Hence, as leaders it becomes even more important to work together with the employees and motivate them. When employees are motivated, they are fully committed to the organization and they leave no room for error. The sense of belonging develops and enhances the overall productivity. It is the responsibility of the leader to create such environment as well as a culture that speaks about innovation and transformation. The employees must be rewarded for good performance and must be made aware of the repercussions of poor performance. Also, having a good understanding on what motivates the employees can help leaders design a reward strategy for better performance. The employees must be encouraged to bring in new and fresh ideas and giving them the credit is equally important. When employees feel that company values their contribution and effort, they will invest more on company’s growth and ensure their behaviors are directed towards the betterment of the company. Hence, it would be apt to say the dysfunctional human dimension can be overcome by effective communication and motivation.

The Impact of Interactive Communication

As technological culture advances, online communication has become the mainstream method for doing business. However, interactive communication will still be an important aspect when it comes to business dealings, providing feedbacks, information sharing, knowledge transfer and so forth. According to Karlsson (2013, p. 1202), “the core characteristics of interactive communication is the responsiveness between communicating parties created through references to earlier messages.” Hence, it would be apt to say that interactive communication promotes dialogues between parties and consists of new messages being exchanged.

Though the technology has become an integral part of our lives, the negative effect it has on interactive communication or face to face communication cannot be ignored. People are so much immersed in the digital landscape, the face to face communication is now becoming less with rapid technological expansion. According to Drago (2015, p.14), “many studies have been conducted regarding technology’s effect on social interaction and face-to face communication since the rise of cellphone and social media usage in the late 2000s.” And the findings suggest that the communication in the presence of technology such as a mobile device were less empathetic but in the absence of technology, people had superior and engaging conversations.

When it comes to interactive communication in an organizational setting with all the communicating parties within the same geographic region or proximity, the communication is superior and of high quality. However, when companies are spread across the globe, dependency on technology is high as people are bound to use various mediums to stay connected and communicate with one another. Yet, there is greater dependency on technology by people who are within the same building and meetings are being conducted on platforms like Blue Jeans or WebEx. Most would argue that interactive communication may lead to unwanted discussion and communication, even the online communication may lead to unwanted gossips and chitchats like in the case of Buckman Laboratory where email system became a platform for gossip mongers.

With interactive communication, a lot can be said without using much words meaning the communication includes facial expression, tone of voice, body language and hand gestures that speaks volume that helps parties to decode the message easily and effectively. Interactive communication as mentioned above is mostly used to share information, address concerns or issues, provide solution to problems and help with day to day activities because these are some of the things that when done in person has a greater effect on the attitude and behavior. It also changes the perspective of an individual towards things.

Summary and Conclusions

Just as mankind has evolved over the years, the way we connect and communicate with one another has changed. There is a digital opportunity that is virtually relevant across all sectors. And online communication through emails is the most prevalent form of communication that helps organizations and its people to stay connected and collaborate despite their geographic location. It acts as a written record of communication and helps with referencing for the future. However, the impact of interpersonal and interactive communication cannot be ignored. Interpersonal communication is mainly focused on transferring information from one party to another while interactive communication is primarily focused with sharing of ideas where the parties involved are either human or machine, but they have a significant impact on one another.

The Buckman Laboratory case study is an example of online communication strategy that failed because of lack of communication. There was resistance and resentment from managers when it came to information sharing and there was no motivation for participation on sharing innovative ideas. Robert Buckman brought new system to exchange emails with information and ideas, but it did not serve its purpose when it was first introduced. The lack of clarity among his people and trust issues added to the problem. Online communication to share knowledge would have worked well had there been a clear interactive and interpersonal communication from Robert Buckman. There were many ways to communicate to support the online communication strategy, it was matter of communicating it to the right people through proper mediums.

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