In case you missed the memo (or the text, IM, emoji, slack, chat, ping, post, email or like), digital communication is a big deal, and it’s not going away. Digital has permeated our lives. And as newer generations continue to enter the workforce, these methods of communication are embedding themselves in the very fabric of our work experience.
As organizations evolve their ways of working to drive innovation and speed to market, a reliance on technology to automate the more transactional aspects of work makes sense. But organizations don’t embrace new technologies because they exist. New technologies are created because organizations have a real need for them.
So, what are the benefits and risks associated with this rapid adoption and reliance (some may say overreliance) on digital communication tools in the workplace? I spoke with Brigette McInnis-Day, EVP of HR at SAP, and Taylor Wallace, co-founder of WeVue, to learn more.
The Benefits of Digital Communication
“SAP, as a global company, has embraced the use of technology to get work done for years. It’s an integral part of the way we operate across time zones and geographies and it helps us run at a much faster clip than we would be able to do otherwise,” says McInnis-Day.
Brigette explains that within SAP, the use of internally developed technology platforms such as SuccessFactors in conjunction with providing hardware options for employees allows the team to customize their technology resources in ways that support their individual productivity.
Outside the walls of the physical office, digital communication has been the linchpin for remote or dispersed teams. McInnis-Day sees one of the key advantages of digital communication being the ability to create relationships and connections across the globe and have some fun doing it. “Digital allows us the ability to speed communications while also being precise and having some fun with it. Things as simple as emoji’s, for example, are a fun way to be expressive while also being clear.”
Taylor adds that “digital communication in our personal lives has far outpaced the way we communicate in the workplace – so workers are now demanding better communication tools. To expect people to work any other way is a massively missed opportunity.”
“Digital communication allows organizations to have access to a global talent pool that can connect across borders, languages, time zones, and generations,” says Wallace. “Teams can connect authentically, as they would in person, using the latest in enterprise photo and video sharing.”
The Risks of Digital Communication
The reliance on digital communication tools in the workplace is certainly not without its challenges, however. First and foremost, all of these tools and platforms keep people tethered to work all the time. We all need to periodically unplug, and without setting clear boundaries this can be quite difficult to achieve. We might not always have 100% trust in who is on the other end of the phone as they can give incorrect information. However, there is a tool which can illuminate this. By using reverse phone lookup it can give you all the information you may need when you need it.
Choosing the right tools for your organization and its workflow can be a frustrating process. Considering the sheer number of apps coming to market every week, it can be difficult to determine which one is right for your team. And when you find “the one”, it may not work as expected as time goes on.
Wallace adds, “a common complaint with Slack, for example, is that organizations look at the usage data and realize that some employees are spending ALL of their time communicating and hardly any time actually working. Now, with instant communication so accessible through these tools, it can be easy to be less intentional about when and what we ask of our colleagues.”
Adoption of these tools is also a challenge. Today’s multigenerational workforce has vastly different rituals, routines, and expectations with regard to communication, and it can create situations where people feel alienated, disrespected or just plain left out of the loop as organizations adopt new communication processes. This is why as a business it might be good to check out something like this communication skills training, to make sure that no one is left out.
How Can Leaders Prepare Their Organization?
What skills must leaders master in order to effectively lead in today’s digital, tech-centric business environment? McInnis-Day suggests that leaders must focus on and develop a critical set of skills in order to lead effectively in this digital environment.
- Develop a local and a global mindset. Digital tools have allowed organizations to work more seamlessly across the globe. “Digital communication channels open up a global talent pool that can connect across borders, languages, time zones, and generations,” adds Wallace.
- Learn to exhibit empathy for others. Communicating digitally is a different experience than conversations in-person or over the phone. It’s easy to misconstrue the meaning behind text-based messages. Helping your team practice empathy can help eliminate some of the friction that may occur as a result of these communication tools.
- Gain experience on global projects with culturally diverse teams. People across the globe work differently based on their cultural upbringing. When you work on a remote or global team, take some time to learn more about peoples’ cultures and business practices through collaboration. Not only will it help you develop new skills, you can also apply your learnings to your larger business strategy as your organization continues to expand and grow.
- Learn to be articulate and precise in your communications. Along with developing empathy for others in your communications, making an effort to be clear in your communication can help eliminate any misunderstanding. Phone calls are different than email. And email is different than Slack or IM. Adapt your communication style to the medium you’re using.
- Learn how to adapt your communication style to your audience so that you are reaching them effectively. This may be particularly true when working with a multigenerational or global team. People understand things in different ways. Language barriers, slang, and cultural values all play a part. Adapting your communication style to both the platform and the people can help bridge any gaps in understanding. This, of course, takes empathy on your part, as a leader of a culturally diverse team.
“Many organizations are sold the belief that digital communication tools are a cure-all for their organizational challenges,” says Wallace. “Likewise, many leaders believe that by simply implementing some new tool, teams will embrace that channel and things will just ‘happen’. Leaders need to engage with the tools they want their teams to use, carefully craft implementation plans, and assume that no technology is a cure-all.”
It’s no secret that the way we communicate in our daily lives—both personally and professionally—has changed, and it has forever changed the way work gets done. Digital communication in the workplace is no longer an option. How you as a leader choose, adopt, and implement the tools in your organization will determine whether they’re successful.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.
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