MIAMI -- University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer noted this season that his team's chemistry was suffering. The reason: cell phones and iPods.
Meyer said his players come into the locker room with iPods, put their football gear on and go out to practice, come back in and grab their iPods or whip out their cell phones and text people, and leave.
"How are we going to develop any chemistry as a team?" he wondered aloud. In one attempt to spark communication, Meyer said he took the team paint-balling.
Most young workers today grew up talking through text and instant messaging, and many prefer it. And while wireless devices -- laptops, Blackberrys, cell phones -- clearly allow workers to respond quickly, managers are beginning to question whether office spats, bad decisions and lack of teamwork could be avoided by more in- person conversations.
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The debate likely will get more intense in the years ahead. A 2007 survey of 500 chief information officers shows their No. 1 priority is to beef up their corporate systems by giving their employees more wireless devices.
For their part, workers are struggling, too, questioning expectations in an increasingly wireless business world and feeling their way through "textiquette" in the workplace just as in social situations.
Andrew Speer with Technisource in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said his IT staffing company now spends time training new hires who are adept at technology but unaware of the risks of communicating wirelessly and giving quick responses.
"With younger workers, everything is an expedient exercise. They make quick decisions and in my opinion, it's not always the one that's best," he said.
At Campus Management in Boca Raton, Fla., staff members roam the building with their laptops. One might shoot off an instant message to a co-worker five feet away.
Mark Delawar, recruiting manager with the software development firm, said his staff relishes the ability to use technology to multitask, and get more done.
For example, he said, he might respond to an instant message while on the phone. But he acknowledges that "it helps and hurts." Recently, he had to interrupt a series of about 10 heated back-and-forth e-mails and force the participants to talk face to face. Delawar and a handful of other executives with the South Florida Technology Alliance recently debated the challenges of managing staff in today's mobile environment.
While all said new forms of communication have improved productivity, they also agreed it requires new ways of thinking and new expectations.
At Data Access Worldwide in Miami, Chief Executive Officer Charles Casanave e-mails his software developers in various countries several times a day. Yet, he recognizes the need to create rapport. He said he now spends the money to gather all his workers a few times a year at industry conferences.
"There's a value you get from talking to someone in person and seeing the twinkle in his eye," he said. "It creates chemistry and I've found they stay with us longer." Managers need to give their staff more guidelines as mobile devices become more ingrained in corporate culture, said Andrew Tabone, manager of information systems at Carnival Cruise Lines. He believes managers should set expectations about e-mail responses, and be clear about what types of conversations need to be in person.
"Technology is a facilitator, the fundamentals need to be in place," he said.
Regardless of industries, most workers want their jobs to have more than a virtual water cooler. Allison Manners, a senior recruiter at Office Depot, said she wants personal interaction.
Having just received an e-mail from a staff member, she'll dash to their office to follow up.
"It will be empty and I realize they sent it from some other location," she said, adding, "We are losing face-to-face time."