To be viewed as a valued business communication partner and to engage employees in ahyperconnected world means revisiting and reinventing current communication practices. Understanding the implications of the new world of work and the workplace can lead to improved approaches that communicators take while framing suitable interventions and engaging stakeholders.
Consider these findings from research reports –
· 60% of communicators cite information overload most frequently as a source of concern (The Future of Corporate Communications, Brunswick, 2015)
· Interruptions eat up 28% of the workday (Death by Information Overload, Harvard Business Review, 2009)
· One in 5 leaders expect to reshape their business “radically” in response to hyperconnectivity. (The hyperconnected economy: Phase 2 Hyperconnected organisations, The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited, 2015)
· The demographics of the workforce is shifting; by 2020, there will be five generations working side by side. (The Global Information Technology Report 2012, World Economic Forum)
· Employees who could choose their own work settings were 1.5 times more likely to work in a balanced environment, and also report higher scores across performance indicators. (Asia Workplace Survey – Genslet 2016)
· 83% of CEOs think employees are more productive due to technology (CEO pulse on connectivity, PwC, 2015)
Risks and opportunities
In a VUCA world where people are unfamiliar with the situations they are in or can’t predict the outcomes of their own actions organizations need to do more to help employees cope with changes at the workplace and elsewhere. Democratization of the workplace and technological empowerment of employees brings with it opportunities and challenges. Accessibility, collaboration, information richness, interactivity, always-on experiences and real-time documentation are some of the facets of this new phenomenon. It also brings with it perils of information leaks, misuse and reputation risks.
The growing influence of social, digital and mobile communication is seen as one of the biggest changes faced by communicators. Apart from information overload, communicators also face diminishing attention spans and the prospect of managing expectations of multiple generations at the workplace. This has resulted in trust in leadership eroding and increased expectations from the organization to be more open and engaging. Furthermore, the fast paced communication environment blurs the difference between truth and lies often confusing employees about what to ignore and what to believe. Be it on Whatsapp, Facebook or e-mail the messages that employees receive everyday tend to seed doubts about credibility and purpose. Likewise, employees feel their voice is less heard. In a study by Towers Watson on employee voice, only about 50% of employees in the UK feel that significant action has been taken as a result of previous surveys, and just 57% trust that a survey they participate in will lead to management action, a worrying trend indeed. Hyperconnected workforces also have their downsides. A Harvard Business Review study among business leadersdiscovered that unmanaged work can do more damage than good in such scenarios, unless significant changes are made to the culture inside organizations.
Given this context communicators have a daunting task to keep employees involved, inspired and committed to the organization they serve while staying aware of the distractions and challenges on hand to help them stay focused.
To begin, communicators need to engage more with employees to gauge interest, preferences, barriers and resistances which prevent the acceptance and agreement on messages. For example, The future of Work study by Deloitte indicates that while differences exist between millennials and non-millennials at the workplace about their preferences, the expectations are broadly similar. Both these generations expect more informal and unscheduled catch-ups while preferring more face to face and e-mail engagement. Likewise, employees who had the flexibility in terms of choosing their work settings performed better and felt more balanced in the environment.
Facing into the challenges
In such situations the call to stay honest and retain the ‘human touch’ is growing considering most communication channels are becoming more impersonal. Every year, the WorldBlu organization lists the most democratic workplaces – another indicator of the shift towards inclusive and decision making within organizations. They believe that an environment that fosters choice, dialogue, voice, individual and collective mindsets among other principles can become a sustainable and successful workplace. Tapping the power of employee advocacy has seen an increase with numerous social platforms now offering opportunities to map and gauge the reach of the crowds. Linkedin suggests that just 3% of employees do share content on social media but that amounts to a huge 30% spike in engagement an organization sees.
With the continued preference for face-to-face engagement, despite the growing pace of digitalization globally, means that organizations and leaders need to balance time and effort. Interestingly, CEOs seem to be interacting more with employees although they are getting less time for themselves. There are calls for CEOs to be ‘stewards’ and less ‘heroic’ where they communicate, lead and set strategy more.
Stakeholders expect to see more transparency from organizations on a variety of areas including how they operate, how they manage their business, who they work with and what kind of compensation people receive. Therefore, communicators need to be not just managing information overload and culture but how to bring authenticity to communication. Here are a few recommendations for managing these expectations.
Partner with your employees
By involving employees early, seeking ideas and sharing plans can help build trust and foster improved relationships between management and staff. The role of the communicator is to focus more on helping employees make sense of the world around them, differentiate between the myriad messages they receive , curate employees’ collective effort and make communication consistent and credible. Also, to enable opportunities for authentic conversations and to encourage employee voice.
Make employees the heart of your communication and create opportunities to reinforce the culture within. The chances of peer-to-peer communication being well received are higher since it is more authentic – also employees tend to believe each other more. Giving employees the space to be themselves and yet contribute to the broader organizational direction is critical to engagement. Identify employees who already are active advocates and support their behavior. Focus on changing behavior and help employees take suitable actions that leads to improved connection at the workplace.
Tap the cumulative wisdom of your employees – when they start as new hires or after they progress in the company. Acknowledge and recognize their effort for contributing to the company’s effort. Invest in their individual and collective success by training them about the nuances of information overload and how to cope it. Help them be their best selves at work and outside by bring their talent to bear fruit for the organization. An integrated and joined up approach can help messages be heard better and acted upon. Direct engagement with employees is the way forward.
In summary, the world of work is evolving – types of roles, generations at the workplace and preferences for communication are shaping how employees want to make sense of their lives and contribute meaningfully to the organization’s purpose. Communicators have a role to play in keeping employees aligned and supportive of the organization’s goals. Enabling identification with the organization and supporting citizenship behaviors will make the difference. Managing the increased pace of communication will mean helping employees cope with change, integrating resources and channels better, gaining confidence among stakeholders through consistent engagement and reinventing the team’s approach to managing change.
Note: I had the opportunity to speak at the 2016 Asia-Pacific Communications Summit at Singapore on October 27. Hyperconnected Communication was the theme of the conference. This article is a summary of my presentation.