There’s no denying that technology has had an enormous impact on business communication—as well as almost every other aspect of business. The ability to instantly communicate with almost anyone from almost anywhere around the globe has changed the way that professionals communicate and collaborate—and many young professionals can’t even imagine a world where they don’t have access to their mobile phone with Facebook, Twitter, messaging and numerous other communication apps.
All while recognizing both the good and the bad, here are some of the biggest impacts technology has had on business communication —and the people that rely on it.
1) Near-Constant Access to Key Staff Members
In a post featured on Big Think, John Beeson, the Principal of management coaching firm Beeson Consulting, made the rather critical observation “that modern-day telecommunications, the hair-trigger requirements of financial markets, and the pace of global organizations create 24 x 7 work lives for most executives.”
Ultimately being in a position of significant authority means needing to be accessible at virtually all times—and technology makes it easier than ever to reach out (and perhaps even bug him or her). Even when on vacation, executives are often still accessible and expected to reply to emergencies from the workplace.
Before the advent of the cell phone, reaching out to an exec who was on break involved a process: you had to know where the exec was staying, call his or her hotel/golf club/etc., and get them to play relay. If the exec was incommunicado, then there was no real solution. Now, with the exec’s personal cell phone number at disposal, business teams can get in touch mere seconds.
This is great for getting guidance during unexpected emergencies, but it can also put a serious damper on the ability of senior management to take breaks, relax, and recharge themselves so they can be more effective when they’re on the job.
As Beeson notes in the article:
“Under continued stress an executive loses his or her perspective on issues and the ability to look at problems creatively. Molehills become mountains. Conflict with colleagues becomes personal. The ‘flat spots’ of our personality – for example, arrogance inflexibility, aversion to risk or a tendency toward negativity – become evident. And most of us revert to tried and true solutions – the enemy of breakthrough strategies and new innovations.”
Without the ability to disconnect and relax, high-level executives may suffer from prolonged stress that limits their ability to adapt, innovate and effectively lead their teams.
However, this stress from constant workplace communication can also be applied to any key employee.
For example, what would happen if the only employee in a manufacturing unit who knew how to program a specific assembly robot were to go out of touch for days on end? The first time a problem occurred, all production relying on that robot would grind to a halt. So, the employee is forced to stay in touch, even when on vacation.
So, what’s the solution to this challenge? Beeson urges executives “to find those activities that allow you to relax—even if only for 15 minutes a day.” Rather than taking extended vacations, execs are encouraged to find some little things that they can squeeze into their days. However, this may not be enough R&R to let everyone alleviate their stress and fatigue.
Instead, a better solution may be to make organizational changes that give execs and employees some freedom from worrying about work tasks when they’re on break. One example of a change you could make can be found in a French labor law highlighted in a Big Think article: “le droit de la déconnexion—the right to disconnect from work emails during non-work hours.”
By restricting work-related communications during non-work hours to only emergency situations, workers are given a degree of autonomy from their workplace so they can focus on recuperation and show up for work fresh-faced. This can help make workers more productive and reduce burnout.
2) Social Media and Communication Tools Increase Distractions at Work
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… there are innumerable social media networks for employees to get lost in. Even dedicated business communication tools, like Slack, can become sources of distraction at work as employees use private channels to share funny memes or non-work news articles with one another.
These distractions can take an employee’s attention off of their work for short periods of time, interrupting the flow of their daily activities. And, some distractions made available by modern technology can actively worsen an employee’s mood to the point that it affects the quality and consistency of their work.
One Big Think article on how negative news stories can impact an employee’s productivity highlighted research by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan for the Harvard Business Review. According to Achor and Gielan:
“Negative news influences how we approach our work and the challenges we encounter at the office because it shows us a picture of life in which our behavior does not matter… In psychology, believing our behavior is irrelevant in the face of challenges is called ‘learned helplessness,’ which has been connected with low performance and higher likelihood of depression.”
With the prevalence of negative news distributed on major news sites to social media platforms like Facebook—events such as natural disasters, threats of war, murders, etc.—it’s easy to see how these communication channels can become a source of stress and distraction for workers.
So, what can businesses do to keep social media and their business communication apps from becoming energy-sucking distractions? Surprisingly little. Smartphones and their apps have become an entrenched part of the modern lifestyle, so much so that simply forbidding their use outright is unlikely to have a significant impact.
One suggestion highlighted in the Big Think article on productivity is to “begin the day with ‘empowering, solutions-focused’ news” so that employees are “less likely to get bogged down in the negativity of the outside world.”
Basically, start each day with some positive reinforcement “good news” that can lift people’s spirits. It doesn’t have to be a news story, either. You can share internal news, like major accomplishments by one employee or team or the organization hitting certain milestones. Sharing these stories on the social media channels and business communication apps used by employees, and encouraging them to share such stories amongst themselves, you can build up some positivity in the organization.
3) Employees Have More Access to Information Than Ever Before
In any organization, there’s always an adjustment period as a new employee learns the ropes. From picking up specific skills to learning key terms (or even whole new languages) and more, everyone has something new to learn when they first join a team.
Modern technology has given workers access to more new information than was accessible at any other point in history. It used to be that, if an employee wanted to learn something new, they would have to do one of the following:
- Attend a specialized class;
- Find an experienced mentor; or
- Hunt down industry books/guides.
Any one of these options could be time consuming—taking hours, days, or months for the employee to arrange—and there would be little way to verify the training’s efficacy.
Now, employees can type a search query into Google and have near-instant access to news articles, Wikipedia pages, how-to videos and online training courses designed to impart specific skills or knowledge.
In fact, Google’s translation function, though imperfect, can allow employees to understand articles in foreign languages that would have previously been completely inaccessible to them. With such translation technology, it’s possible for two teams working on different continents and speaking different languages to collaborate without having to arrange for the services of a dedicated translation team.
As translation technology continues to improve, such as in the form of Google’s new earbuds that can translate 40 different languages in real time, the language barrier may soon completely disappear from the modern workplace.
This could massively streamline international business communication in the very near future.
These are just a few of the effects that modern technology has had on business communication and employees in today’s workforce. Learn more about how you can improve your organization’s strategies for shaping and delivering content, strengthening work relationships, and capitalizing on develop communication technology by checking out Big Think Edge’s Business Communication Course—featuring lessons from noted experts like Amy Cuddy (Social Psychologist and Associate Professor of the Harvard Business School)!