The Impact of Technology on Communication at Work: 6 Types of Tools That Are Changing How We Work Together

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6 Types of Tools That Are Changing How We Work Together

By Kat Hills, Community Manager of Honey

Technology has touched nearly every aspect of how the business world functions. It has changed how companies manufacture their products, set their pricing, sell to their customers, manage their funds, and reached right down to how we take notes at meetings.

But we’re willing to bet that the greatest change stems from the impact of technology on communication.

New tools and capabilities are changing how we work together, promising to break down silos and unite teams. Behind their adoption is a desire to make work easier and more fulfilling. But new tools and technologies don’t guarantee you’ll avoid the fallout of poor communication. Sure, they can lead your team toward higher productivity and greater innovation. But if teams are not careful and thoughtful in the technologies they embrace, they may end up with just another version of fragmentation.

If you’re not already using these six types of tools at work, you probably will be soon. See what you and your teams need to know before implementing them.

1. Team chat

In the past, conversations between coworkers would end up in all kinds of disconnected silos: individual email inboxes, documents on local drives, and undocumented phone calls. Now, people at work can use channels to communicate in the open, where others can benefit from seeing conversations, too.

Two of the best-known tools providing team chat capabilities are Slack and Microsoft Teams. These instant-messaging platforms reduce the problems associated with traditional email, like siloed information, missing threads, and attachments that need to be referenced later.

Slack

Source: Slack For heavy email users, it may be hard to imagine communicating openly like this. However, with clogged email inboxes and many people in today’s workforce reluctant to pick up the phone, open communication gives an in-the-middle way to start and move forward important conversations. And people are embracing it with wide-open arms.

Email is not disappearing entirely, though. Rather, email is evolving to include team chat alongside traditional messages. Consider Front, a team email inbox that exists entirely in the cloud and lets coworkers tag each other and hold discussions that stick with emails. Users still maintain their inboxes, but there’s no need to forward threads or rely on the individual to maintain all records of communication.

As open communication channels crop up in the workplace, the company intranet is becoming the home base that ties it all together.

2. Dynamic company intranets

Over the last decade, intranets have shifted from static pages cluttered with links to become the digital center of company communications.

This evolution may be thanks to the way people consume content now, as they look for ways to make sense of a barrage of information every day. For instance, many people rely on apps like Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with their personal communities. Rachel Kaplowitz, founder and CEO of social intranet Honey, says, “Companies that recognize this shift are seeing the opportunity to connect authentically with today’s generation of employees. They look to provide a way for employees to easily find out what’s going on at work that fits with how they are used to consuming information.”

Intranets such as Honey distribute company content through a newsfeed as well as personalized notifications. This makes it easy for employees to tune into the topics they care about. They integrate with tools like Slack, email, Google Drive, and Dropbox, becoming the entry point for employees to find the most helpful resources across the organization.

Honey

Source: Honey

<<Learn more about how a Honey intranet helps your people communicate better at work. Download our Intranet Scorecard Template >>

Giving your team an interactive home base, a social intranet allows for context that the static pages of traditional intranets and wikis lack. Take company announcements and newsletters, for example. In the past, they have typically been sent like bulletins to employees. The employee reads it (or not) and carries on with work, maybe making a comment to the coworker sitting close by. With social intranet technology, announcements and internal publications become dynamic conversations, including rich media like video recordings, podcasts, and gifs that business leaders can use to create a dialogue and engage their staff. As an added bonus, it also creates a historical archive that becomes especially valuable for future hires who would have missed out on those emails entirely.

Social intranet technology is inherently people-centered, which helps build engagement at work by fulfilling the crucial need to connect and belong. But before you can engage your employees, you have to hire them. Staff onboarding technology can help with that.

3. Staff onboarding sequences

Hiring a new employee? Typical onboarding often involves a generic process, sometimes thrown together ad hoc by a busy hiring manager. But onboarding is the time to get a new employee set up for success. Now, onboarding software like Enboarder provides personalized support to new hires and their managers. It can segment new hires into a stream of nudges and prompts according to their role and who they’re reporting to. It also lets managers know when it’s time to step in and provide training on company tools, for example.

Zenefits

Source: Zenefits

As your business grows, you may find yourself looking for a way to check that your onboarding and all of your processes are working to make your company a great place to be. You might be surprised to learn that employee engagement can also be measured.

4. Employee engagement surveys

Thanks to new technology, we can measure things that were rarely put into numbers before, like employee engagement and the health of your company’s culture.

It’s not that managers haven’t been trying. In the typical scenario, the human resources department would send out a company-wide survey every year to gauge how its workers were feeling about the company and their work. They might gather feedback at an employee’s exit and at annual review time with 360-degree team-effectiveness surveys. But “the data from these surveys is rarely joined-up and therefore fails to paint a complete picture of why people are leaving, and how to encourage them to stay,” says Jim Barnett, CEO of Glint, a company that helps businesses create positive work environments.

Now, companies can regularly collect employee feedback from their staff using simple technology. There are more than 72 different employee feedback tools to choose from! Many of these take the form of a simple weekly questionnaire that a staff member fills out and managers can comment on. But some let managers track such things as progression toward goals, discussions in face-to-face meetings, and team updates.

CultureIQ

Source: Culture IQ

Culture IQ, an employee feedback tool, presents leaders with engagement, motivation, and insights from answers each week at an individual, team, and company level. The system also prompts managers with tips to improve engagement, which can help company leaders take action based on the feedback. It also offers custom analytics for individual groups and teams, along with how a score relates to a global average.

Thanks to the easy collection of feedback, you can now make decisions based on data where you might have had to rely on gut instinct before. But how to make sense of all this new data? With data visualization, of course.

5. Data visualization

With more data available to people at work than ever before, people need a way to understand it quickly. Data visualization tools can organize information to tell a story quickly, like in the employee-sentiment dashboard above or in a graph or chart. Now, anyone can create data visualizations with software like Tableau and Qlik — even the most Excel-averse layperson.

Data visualization makes it easy to express a concept that might take a lot of words to express otherwise. Take, for instance, this interactive chart about the rising speed of technology adoption. It pulls together data spanning 20 technologies over 106 years. Moving the cursor through the years shows the status at any year, telling the story of the data more powerfully than words could.

Source: Visual Capitalist

Data visualization tools are becoming increasingly automated, too. Some do the thinking for you, sorting out the best way to present data and then creating the chart style best to convey it.

Yet, with all that technology can do for us, connecting face-to-face remains critical in how we “do business.”

6. Video communication

For distributed teams, perhaps no other technology may be so important when it comes to employee communication. Video calls help build relationships and trust with face-to-face communication for remote workers.

The phone is no longer required to make calls, because video integrates with other platforms and provides a superior experience. In fact, we know of at least one distributed team where no one knows each other’s phone numbers. They just don’t need them. Video calling is convenient; people can use computers at their desks or on the go on their smartphones with most video apps.

Today’s video apps, like Zoom, also integrate with other communication channels, so you can start a video call within Slack or schedule a video call when you create a calendar invite, for example.

Google calendar

Source: A team member’s Google Calendar

Thanks to increased ease of use and accessibility through cloud applications, video communication is looking mighty attractive as a meeting solution for teams. With the click of a button, different team members can share their screens, making it easier than ever to convey important information.

If your office is not yet digitally driven, the idea of changing communication to all these platforms can feel overwhelming. In fact, we wouldn’t recommend that anyone implement all of these at once. Next, we’ll cover a few ways you can ensure that when you are ready to take the next step, the impact of technology on communication at your workplace is all you want it to be.

How to improve the impact of technology on communication for your team

The plethora of technology options today means teams can communicate faster and gather more diverse input. But making the transition to new digital tools can bring headaches, too, if not approached thoughtfully. Here are some things your team should be thinking about as its communication becomes more digitally driven.

Select new technologies carefully.

Technology can build productivity, inclusiveness, and engagement at work. It can also lead to fragmentation when not selected and integrated carefully. Watch out for the following:

  • Tools that overlap in capabilities. Your team may become confused about which tool to use when they have a message to relay.

  • Channel preferences among certain groups. You may see younger age groups more readily adopt open communication channels, for example, which may exclude older staff from important discussions.

Conduct a thorough analysis before adopting a new communication technology or channel. Make sure you’re not drawn to it for a feature that you could find in technology your team already uses. And make sure everyone can use it. Consider any disabilities among your team members. Train your people on how to use new communication technology so everyone operates with the same understanding. Understand that you may need to offer more support to some employee groups than others.

Encourage employees to think before they share.

Technology lets a team quickly share information with many people. This brings a responsibility to ensure integrity of data and sensitivity in the choice of medium and words before sharing. Watch out for the following:

  • The spread of incorrect or easily misinterpreted info, which can take the form of a beautiful chart that’s based on poor data, or the spread of rumors.

  • Choice of the right medium for the message.

Determine guidelines for who communicates what. Company leadership should agree on protocols for communicating big news. For example, company-wide announcements should always come from the CEO.

Encourage thoughtful deliberation before posting. You want your staff to consider how their message may be received by different groups. One technique that’s especially helpful in open communication is BLUF, which stands for “bottom line up front.” This helps reduce the time spent trying to figure out what the person asking needs.

Help employees understand which platforms are most suitable for which conversations. Even with only traditional email and phone as choices, coworkers can stumble over choosing the right way to reach out. As you introduce more technologies to your communications stack at work, you’ll need to build a strong consensus of when to use which channel.

Encourage questions to clarify. Open communication channels are an opportunity to build trust by accepting and answering questions with transparency.

Set expectations for response time.

Rapid response has become the new norm in communication at work because many people carry their work apps with them on their smartphones. Today’s teams need to be prepared for potential pitfalls. Watch out for the following:

  • Employee burnout. The always-on mode can wear out your team members quickly.

  • Distraction from work. Constant notifications and pings can disrupt concentration.

Let employees decide whether to set up workplace technologies on their personal devices or not. Set expectations for response time, and abide by it yourself. It helps set the tone if the CEO or team lead snoozes notifications outside of normal working hours, for example.

That said, know your people, and respect their different needs. Some may crave online social interactivity with the team more than others. Let employees know it’s OK to unplug, and encourage them to personalize notifications settings to find the right balance.

Make efforts to engage everyone.

Digital group conversations can help gather input quickly. But as with in-person communication, teams should be aware of the potential for skewed input. Watch out for the following:

  • Open group conversations that become dominated by a few players.

  • Decisions that trend toward reflecting the contributions of the most vocal few.

Team leads can engage various viewpoints intentionally. They may need to reach out to those who are silent on a topic but may have experience to contribute. The good thing is that today’s communication tools offer many ways to do that, like tagging someone publicly in a channel or sending a private message. Communicators at work can tailor the channel to the person they want to engage. And you can even experiment with different channels, even trying asynchronous communication over more interactivity, like with video.

Good communication still takes work.

Communication tools in the workplace are changing how we reach and engage each other. You may soon find yourself talking via video to your coworkers or setting a sequence of prompts to onboard your next new hire—if you’re not already, that is.

For all that we see changing around us, though, some things remain unchanged. It’s still important to tailor your message to the recipient, to let others know you appreciate them, and to build common ground with those you work with. Those and other best practices of good workplace communication aren’t going away anytime soon. If anything, today’s tools make it more important than ever to pay attention to the basics.

Download our scorecard template to evaluate your intranet options. See how social intranet Honey puts the best of today’s communication tools at your team’s fingertips — try a demo today!