It’d be fair to say that the most impressive transformation we’ve seen in technology over the last couple of decades is in communication. We’ve gone from landlines to multi-user video interfaces in a very short space of time. On the face of it, the technological progress is nothing short of remarkable.
But entrepreneurs, being entrepreneurs aren’t satisfied. They worry that modern communication methods are taking away the human touch. Teams are flung all over the world, employees work irregular hours: it’s all somehow unnatural.
Experts have tried to crystallize the issue here. They argue that even though communications systems changed, people’s behavior remained the same. We acted as though we were meeting face to face, even though we weren’t. The solution is not to adapt ourselves to the technology, but to adapt it to us. Here are some exciting developments in business communication technology we see right now.
The fragmentation of communications has become a big problem for modern businesses. Things were much simpler when companies relied on a single office telephone system. But now businesses have dozens, if not hundreds of communication channels. Businesses have to somehow find a way to integrate all of their business channels into a single whole that makes sense.
Right now, businesses are flip-flopping between different types of communication. One moment, they’re connecting to people using video platforms, the next, they’re on social media. It’s a big mess.
McKinsey Global Institute recently made it clear just what a mess the current situation is. According to their analysis, workers spend more than 19 percent of their week simply looking for information. Search costs are now so high that they comprise nearly a fifth of company wage bills.
Now, however, a new generation of digital platforms is rising up. The aim of these platforms is to bring company communications together and try to make sense of them all. In practice, what does this mean? Well, for starters, it means collecting all digital data into one searchable database. Employees need to have access to all their minutes, chat conversations and emails in one place. They also need to be able to have access to video conversations and text feeds from a single search. When all these things are brought together, staff are better prepared for meeting and reviews.
Perhaps the best thing about these new platforms is that they make recapping in meetings a lot easier. Everybody can see where they are up to in the project, and all communications are shared across all team members. You quickly find out where you left off and go from there.
Collaboration used to be something that was done on chalkboards and over coffee. But now, with the advent of digital collaboration, that’s all changed.
In a sense, it had to. According to research by Unify, something like 79 percent of all workers now works in a virtual team. But according to the same research firm, there’s currently a bias among those teams to use the same technology.
What’s needed is something new: something more agile. The problem was that collaborative technologies didn’t get off to the best start. Many businesses loathed conference calls, finding them both unnatural and unwieldy. This has begun to change, thanks in part to much better technology. But there’s still a feeling among many people in business that collaborative tools just aren’t that good. For whatever reason, their expectations seem to always fall short of the mark.
Experts, however, have found some significant benefits from this second wave of collaborative tools. Businesses are finding that video platforms actually help them to save time in meetings. Some companies are reporting average drops in meeting times from 90 minutes to 60 minutes, just using these new tools. There’s also a social element here that can’t be ignored. The fact that people can see each other in today’s digital world is a big deal. Not all communication has to be verbal – people can get the gist of things, just by the way you act.
Social media is also playing a big part in all of this. Collaboration wasn’t exactly fun when it was done over emails. But now business have access to social media, it’s suddenly a lot more engaging. Social media has an uncanny ability to humanize our digital interactions.
This is particularly useful for businesses that are client-facing. Long email chains aren’t exactly the most personable way to interact in the digital space. Often it feels as if the conversation is missing something, or lacks depth. With Facebook, all of a sudden we have a system that is designed with organic human interactions in mind.
It’s also a boon for businesses that want to foster great relationships between their employees. Companies are now finding that communication improves employee engagement. People who are connected to other people they like over social media are more productive.
Lastly, communication is changing the way we work. There’s been a lot said of new working patterns. No longer are people sticking to rigid schedules, like the nine to five. Instead, they’re working more flexibly, from home and the office, as well as at different times. People are getting home from work at midday, spending time with their kids, only to go back to work in the small hours. Things are certainly very different in 2016.
As a result of all this, companies are in need of dramatically new communication systems. One of the places that we’ve seen this emerge is in the growing bring your own device to work movement. There’s a realization among employers that in order for people to be flexible, they have to be able to take their work with them. A firm’s digital assets are no longer embodied in their servers or PC systems. They’re out there in the cloud and connected to by many smaller devices. Businesses that can go mobile without compromising on their ability to communicate will have success. Those that don’t will struggle.
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