The technology explosion of the past two decades has left businesses running catch-up. It’s easy for an individual to use a smart phone, but how does a large, or even not-so-large, organization leverage that convenience into business advantage? In some cases, communication technology has even harmed efficiencies by introducing tools that generate massive amounts of information without the skills to use that data effectively. Email, for example, creates an easy to use way to communicate. So easy that recent studies show that employees spend more time managing their messages than getting work done.
The good news is that businesses now have enough organizational experience with the idea of communication technology, that they are beginning to take ownership of its evolution. Here are a few of today’s business communication trends:
Communication is Getting More Personal (Again)
Conference calls, email and the ability to group edit documents created an environment that allowed virtual teams to collaborate from anywhere. The side-effect is that face-to-face communication has dropped dramatically, creating a satisfaction gap that has led some businesses to experience low employee engagement.
To counter feelings of isolation created by “serial” communication – long, impersonal email chains, for example – businesses are adding highly collaborative “parallel” technologies to their technology tool belts. Video conferences let employees see each others’ expressions and reveal personalities in a way that an endless email thread can’t. Similarly, screen-sharing tools give teams a way to work together, creating efficiencies that serial document editing can’t produce.
Amy Rose, Program Manager for Verizon Enterprise Solutions,leads a remote team. After the team began using video conferencing, she was surprised by assumptions she’d made. “After months of email and conference calls, I had created mental images of what everyone looked like from their voices. The first time I saw what people really did look like, I realized I’d imagined almost everyone wrong! It was good to have a real picture of my team in my head as we worked together. I can’t stress enough how important it is to not lose the human element when interacting with humans on projects.”
Tools are Focused on Aggregation
As valuable as communication tools are individually – mobile devices, email, video conferencing, document sharing and even social media – together they represent a lot of media clutter to keep track of. Instead of limiting communication options, businesses are instead working on adopting tools that aggregate information collected from multiple sources. Platforms such as Basecamp™, Salesforce®, and Unify® collect everything from email conversations, videos and even text messages into databases of conversations with a single dashboard.
Use of Technology is More Deliberate
The technology itself is only a part of the equation. Learning how to use it in the most effective business manner is just as important. Teaching email manners is one example of how a tool becomes more effective with deliberation.
As one of today’s driving forces in technology and communication, Google™ is a leader in putting its tools to the test in its own organization. Dr. Todd Carlisle, Google Human Resources Director says that his primary advice to internal managers is to simply choose the best tool for the job. A quick back-and-forth conversation would work well on instant messaging, but a longer conversation would be better either via phone or video-conference call. In one example, one internal newsletter was replaced by a three-minute video because employees were shown to retain the information and felt more positive about the organization because they connected with the VP’s personal delivery.
Employees Lead the Way
Companies have learned that hanging back doesn’t solve the technology explosion problem. Employees will eagerly bring their ideas (and devices) to the workplace, whether the business is ready or not. If not, the companies quickly find themselves maintaining a different workflow in each department or even on each individual’s desktop. A business that takes a proactive approach to discovering what employees want and need will allow it to implement the right tools in the right places.