With the on-going push and use of technology in our daily lives, communication has changed. It hasn’t really improved, but it has changed. The October HR Roundtable (in Cincinnati) wanted to take a look at this so we gathered to discuss “Communication and Technology.”
Steve started with a rare caution before listing the questions to be discussed. This caution was that the attendees couldn’t make this a generational conversation. To emphasize this he asked everyone to pull out their smartphone and asked everyone to look around. Everyone had a smartphone regardless of age, gender, race, etc. Communicating through technology is the new norm. So, the discussions then began:
- How has communication improved with technology?
- Why isn’t communication better in organizations?
- How can we leverage technology to communicate more consistently?
The small group discussions were electric, but more respectful than the recent series of debates. The conversation was deep and some really solid answers came back to the larger group.
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1. How has communication improved with technology?
- More access — The group stated that this was a positive and a potential negative. With technology people can communicate literally anywhere and at any time. This is great because we are not relying on slower methods as much. There are pitfalls to access, but it is a huge advantage in a global business environment.
- Instant communication — Again, positive and negative. People can send/receive messages instantaneously with little time and effort. It may not be filled with all the context that is needed, but it improves the pace of communication getting out to folks. Also, you can communicate with several people all at the same time. This has become more of the business standard.
- We can see each other — There is a poor assumption that technology depersonalizes communication. Far from it. All communication still contains emotion, intent and a need for reciprocation. With the addition of video to the mix, we can close the electronic gap to see the nuances of people and their faces. Also, video can capture events in real time to be shared and not have everything be text heavy.
- We react to situations differently — Because technology is global, people see and react to a multitude of events from a worldly perspective regardless of where you are located. There have been incredible social movements that started from a Tweet, a video or a post on a social media platform. It has changed our focus and made us more aware of the world around us both socially and as organizations.
- Reduces cost — You could argue that it’s more of a cost shift than a reduction, but there is less and less hardware and more mobile technology. It has affected how the workplace looks as well as to where work can be conducted. The costs organizations had invested in large quantities of phones, copiers, projectors, fax machines (yes, they still exist), etc. has moved to investment in cloud based solutions. This area will be an on-going shift for organizations.
2. Why isn’t communication better in organizations?
- We are bombarded by quantity and not necessarily quality — The volume of communication and the various outlets that are constantly pumping it out is only growing. There seems to be a true capacity issue as to how much people are willing to receive or consume. The volume has exponentially increased and that has yet to prove whether good or a hindrance. You could make the argument that a ton of what’s communicated is scanned and then either ignored or discarded quickly. This will continue to be an organizational challenge as well as an employee challenge. Employees will choose more and more what communication is valuable and disregard the rest which may lead to critical business items being overlooked.
- Responses are expected immediately — We have turned into a “sender oriented” communication culture. People post, comment, like, retweet, share at an unbelievable pace. As more and more people get used to technology as the norm for communicating, this will only increase. The receiver of messages feels an innate pressure to respond within seconds. Also, senders are impatient unless that occurs. This hinders more thought, reflection and other key characteristics that are needed in work, projects and long-term strategy.
- We don’t understand or comprehend the technology, and then it changes — Look at it this way: typewriters were around for decades before they were replaced by computers. Desktop computers lasted a few decades and were replaced by laptops and tablets. Laptops and tablets are already starting to diminish as smartphones and wearable technology comes out with new editions annually!! It’s no wonder people get stuck or frustrated. The changes in equipment are driving the methods of communication, but not everyone is using the same equipment or platform. It causes gaps that people complain about, but do little to remedy.
- You can hide — Technology gives people more and more ways to vent, complain, etc. and be anonymous while doing it. This is challenging because organizations can’t respond to a ghost. Ratings sites capture a customer experience that may actually be an isolated instance, but the moment it’s posted companies feel obligated to respond. Consumers may make decisions to not use the product/service on one random anonymous item. It’s a huge challenge.
3. How can we leverage technology to communicate more consistently?
- Quit fighting the tide — There’s no more room to sit on your patio in a rocking chair lamenting about how communication used to be “so much better” in the past. That just wasn’t true. Communication has always been somewhat okay in companies. Technology isn’t contributing specifically to whether communication is good or bad. However, it is how communication is occurring. We need to take the time to learn, train others and adapt. It’s how business is being conducted. We can either choose to jump in or become irrelevant.
- Understand how to use technology for collaboration — Since we now have the ability to talk to many people concurrently and across time and geography, see how you can use the platforms to bring things together. Look at the positive side of how to collaborate better and more consistently. It really is an untapped aspect of communication and tech.
- Give expectations and context — This is true for all communication, but it is even more imperative when a simply communicated email can cause major disruption because it’s misinterpreted. You have to resist the instant reaction push and step back to breathe a little. There’s nothing saying you can’t contemplate, formulate and then respond to set up a dialogue. It just takes discipline and being clear with those who are your audience.
- Coach people up — This is honestly a great approach for training of all types. Quit shaming people because they don’t understand or only choose to be on one platform vs. another. Teach folks how to utilize the tools. We do it in every other aspect of work. Technology should be no different.
Our in person meeting discussing technology rocked!! People felt more at ease to move forward and be less resistant to the reality that is all around us.