Communicating better through technology
By making communication near-instant, practically in any format, you're enabling ease of access and more responsive decision-making.
The concept of communicating better is as old as the notion of discovering a tribe different to your own and trying to get your meaning across. Fast-forward a few millennia, however, and some of the same problems remain. What's more, widening generational gaps and rapid technology deployments make them even more challenging today.
These issues are not uncommon within the ICT industry. We do, however, have a distinct advantage when it comes to solving them: we are early adopters of technology. Thus, we are also among the first to come up with real-life working solutions to counter them. And since communication really does drive business forward, this is where proponents sit up and pay attention.
Defining the matter
Communicating better doesn't automatically mean sending more. Rather, it has far more to do with the quality of what you send and how you send it. An entire subset of soft skills training exists purely to aid in improving communication.
"To communicate better simply means that your intended recipients receive the message without hassles, and furthermore, are able to comprehend it easily," states Gideon Le Grange, Adept's Managing Director. "Sending too much, too little, too rapidly, too slowly, or via an unsuitable means doesn't do either the sender or the recipient any favours.
"Fortunately, these days you have a wealth of available options. What's less fortunate is that often the skills to make the best use of these options are atrophied or absent."
Communicating better starts early
In the ICT and related fields, you may struggle to find experts who are both knowledgeable and proficient at communicating. We've seen this dichotomy grow larger with the advent of remote technology: if you can work from afar or in solitude, you're bound to worry less about direct interactions. And therein lies a trap. Letting your work speak for itself tends to mute out your own voice, feelings and passion.
Paola van Eeden, Adept's Human Resources Manager, has a simple counter to this problem. "We make excellent communication skills upfront requirements in our staff when hiring," she says. "Furthermore, we invest heavily in communication skills in our induction training programme. This ensures that our staff not only know where we set the bar, but also that we expect them to clear it."
Bring the worlds together
Le Grange says the human and technology aspects must, of necessity, become inextricably intimate.
"It's no use having natural communicators who don't know how to use the available tools. By the same token, you can't have experts in those tools who are unable to apply basic communication principles. The two have to overlap and meld. The sooner you have that, the sooner you have a winning combination."
His top tip?
"Pick up the phone. Particularly when in doubt, in times of crisis, or when communication is breaking down, keep it simple and make a call to your peers or to your clients whenever possible. And above all, assume you haven't communicated enough. Then communicate some more."
Communicating better: more tools than ever before
Modern applications and devices give people the speed and the reach they've always dreamed of for spreading information. By making communication near-instant, practically in any format, you're enabling ease of access and more responsive decision-making.
They're pretty cost-effective, too. If you consider the value proposition of a suite like Microsoft's Office 365 for business, the budget for the right tools is very much within reach. What's more, many of the more popular tools are fairly ubiquitous. This means not only that recipients are likely to have access to them, but also that they'll be easy to use.
It's easy to future-proof
Consider the increase of modern individuals in the workforce. You see a batch of eager entrants who quickly turn into seasoned workers. These individuals are of a generation that was always connected and increasingly comfortable with the digital arena.
This, then, is a demographic that will most easily benefit from a crash course or two in communicating better. They can already handle devices, connections and increasingly complex user interfaces. They're used to sharing more information than their predecessors. All they're likely to need is some refinement and better communication parameters.
When it comes to less technically inclined demographics, however, you shouldn't skimp on additional training. This includes comprehensive introductions to modern forms of information transfer. You might think it silly to show someone how to confidently use things like message groups, shared files and social media. The fact is, though, that you're doing so for both their benefit as well as that of your organisation. What's more, there's a plethora of recognised courses in all sorts of communication aspects, so don't be afraid to use them to improve your staff's skills.
Technology has amazing benefits for communication. Take care, however, not to burden people, or the technology itself, with too much to manage.
"We all know what it's like to have so many instances of similar topics that it feels like white noise," explains Le Grange. "If too many people share the same thing, it becomes harder to pick out the ones saying it along with something of relevance. In addition to this, people often use the wrong channel to send information, leading to that channel becoming uselessly clogged."
He strikes a resonant point which is increasingly worrying advocates of communicating better. You can see examples of this phenomenon daily. Social media is typically abuzz of the same few popular topics. Fake news permeates a variety of information channels.
To help mitigate this, the best thing you can do is teach people that communication is intended for other people, not for devices. So, when they send information, it should be geared towards the intended recipients, and not towards the means they use to retrieve it.
This isn't always as easy as it sounds. You'll find that people are often very set in their ways, and it takes a monumental effort to effect change. Promoting change through encouragement, example and support works better than issuing directives. What's more, you can always include it as part of feedback or performance incentives.
Streamlining and time management
These are invaluable ways for dealing with communication bottlenecks, particularly within organisations.
You should make the effort to merge all the information flowing within your organisation into two or three streams. For example, you could use instant messaging and group for remote team operations. Parallel to this, you use e-mail and calendars for daily tasks, and you have a wiki-style database where all your work material is stored.
Another useful process is to dedicate set times and durations for communicating. This can, and probably should, be done at the individual level.
For example, you give yourself an hour in the mornings to read e-mails and respond accordingly. After this, you focus on productive work until the afternoon. You use another hour in the afternoon to check e-mail and reply again, if needed. And you only update the work database once a day, submitting your work for others to reference and use.
Keep it relevant, take a break
Many make the mistake of adopting novel communication paradigms without considering whether they're suitable. Since every organisation and its members are different, do your due diligence carefully. What works well for others may not work for you, either practically or financially. You need to see tangible positive changes before you consider adopting something permanently.
Finally, don't forget to give yourself and your teams a digital detox every once in a while. "It's not just about time off," says Van Eeden, when talking about recovering from potential burnout. "It’s about doing something completely different to your daily grind. You can't expect to come back rested and refreshed if you spend your time away doing pretty much what you were doing while working."