How is technology influencing the way we communicate in the workplace?

Jennifer Marshall
How should communication in the Professional Environment be responsive of society’s idiosyncrasies...

Friend: I haven’t heard back from this company for a week, I keep chasing them

Me: Have you called them?

Friend: I’ve emailed them.

Me: Why don’t you call, it will be quicker?

Friend: I sent them a text

Me: Just call them.

Friend: I’ll send them another email.

 

Recently, the above seems to be a frequent conversation had with peers from different walks of life.

Whilst I can’t comprehend why someone would not want to simply pick up the phone, as it is quicker, easier to sort out, a more personable approach and the person on the other end of the phone does not have the opportunity to ‘hide behind emails’, I often wonder if I am a traditional millennial. In an era where communicating with the younger generation by phone call is the equivalent of sending a telegram, should we be encouraging those around us to keep to traditional approaches or should we be updating our own communication styles to reflect the ever-changing trends in our professional environment. After all, the construction industry can be a particularly adversarial one, therefore written communication and record keeping is key. So, would it be better to drive communication solely through emails, texts and notifications rather than phone calls.

Forbes (2017) recently commented on millennials’ aversion to phone calls noting, ‘This generation grew up with the gradual introduction of instant messaging, texting, email, and other forms of written communication. Because they’re just as instantaneous, but provide you the ability to think over your words, they’re more comfortable and precise communication forms’.

Communication these days is instant, so instant in fact we find ourselves putting an ‘out-of-office’ on just to excuse ourselves from not answering an email for three hours whilst we are out on a site visit. Many us probably couldn’t imagine a time when communication in the professional environment was through letter, how time consuming this would have been and how slowly things would get done, but anyone who did experience this would argue it worked perfectly well at the time. Similarly, will our future generation wonder how we relied on phone calls and emails? 

Is it time to put some of our processes to bed and accept the inevitable change of communication and technology, should we doing more to push this? It leads to further exploration of thought on what the future holds for the way we communicate.  Will we soon be replacing our CVs with Pinterest Boards of images of our recent work? Instead of walking up to someone at a networking event, shaking their hand and introducing ourselves, will we instead scan them with our Google glasses to find out their details and whether it will benefit us to talk to them? Rather than attending a site to look at and discuss an issue, will we be putting on our augmented reality headsets to view the site without encountering so much as a speck of dust on our site boots?

The above may be considered facetious, however I don’t think any of us ever thought we would live in an age where the President of the United States would be sending controversial tweets to the world, an emoji would become part of the Oxford Dictionary, or the promotion of a ‘Digital Self’ for displaying ‘your best you’ for a mortgage would exist, so it is important we keep an open mind to changes that are yet to come.

A new cohort of Apprentices and Graduates will join the professional environment in September and it will be interesting to learn and observe how their means of communication is displayed in the office, on site and speaking to colleagues. It is however surprising to observe that our fairly recent communication portal ‘Yammer’, which can be closely compared to the widely popular ‘Twitter’ or ‘Facebook’, appears to attract more traction for those in senior roles than the junior staff at Faithful+Gould. 17% of those asked between 46 and 59 years had posted over 15 times on Yammer this year, compared to 0% of 18-24 year old for this same amount. When queried what discouraged them posting on Yammer, 50% of 18-24 year old noted they were worried no one would respond, 0% of 46-59 year olds had this worry and only 9% of 60+ years shared this view. When questioned on their preferred method of contacting a contractor/supplier, a recent survey of Faithful+ Gould’s employees showed that 100% of 18-21 year olds would choose email, compared to 60% of those 60 and over.  It must be noted however that this survey consisted of seventy respondents. In order to provide more conclusive evidence a greater sample is required to be taken.

It is important to consider and adapt to a new generation and find a way in which they can communicate their opinions in a way which is right for them. Davis (2017) suggested ways of improving communication with the younger generation by;

  1. Reducing the portion size of every communication you create – Research by Mindshare shows 18-35 year olds are checking over 100+ times a day for updates and their attention span is 0-3 seconds. You have to get a message across in that time
  2. Increase participation – Advise leaders to listen more and talk less
  3. Move from describing (words) to showing (visual) and listening

 These sound interesting but how can we tangibly reflect these in the way we are doing things right now?

  •  Communications could be issued in short form, in addition to longer emails. Focusing on enough text to fit on a mobile screen
  • We could create more focus groups across the board on a variety of subjects to gather opinions and ideas – currently a lot of the company forums are focused on experienced individuals in a particular field, do we need to expand these and create forums for the junior levels to voice their opinions and put forward ideas
  • We could create Podcasts of our articles for all to download and listen to
  • We could carry out voice recordings of our meetings which translate online to a written set of notes, rather than scrabbling through our hand written scraps of paper to type up a set of minutes. 

We could also make use of more online tools for management of workload or people. For example, Mondays.com, who’s slogan is ‘Project Management is better when its visual’. The online tool can track the people in your team, who is doing what, the status of their work and how many hours spent on it, improving communication for all.

Of course, we are all different, and will all have preferred methods of communication, however we can’t ignore the two year old in front of us who can navigate an iPad better than we ever could and we need to be prepared for what is to come. 

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