Engagement

Communication channels? Let’s face it: I’m all over the place

At some point I am going to have to admit it; I will never be able to enjoy a single home where I can keep all my stuff. I’m not talking about my physical belongings. I gave up keeping tabs on all of those trainers and keyrings years ago.

No, I mean my virtual stuff. The one place where I tried to keep my online work and relationships.

My colleagues are on Workplace by Facebook or Microsoft Teams (depending on the project we are talking about). My public-facing website is on a Google server using WordPress. When I’m marketing myself or our company, simplycommunicate, I’m on Salesforce and Linkedin. My family is on WhatsApp and Facebook, my bills are on Xero and I still get a hundred emails a day.

Basically I have to accept that I’m all over the place.

Yet I’m that person who gets up on stage at our smile events (social media inside the large enterprise) and preaches about the virtues of integrating all your comms channels into one handy mobile-first portal.

So do I genuinely believe that one platform can supply all the needs of a complex, multi-national organization when I can’t even keep control of all the apps on my own phone? I am coming round to the fact that the future of the digital workplace is becoming ever more fragmented. And that is a problem.

The last time that the introduction of new technology actually made a difference to productivity was the fax machine – believe it or not. It worked the same way all over the world; was virtually instantaneous communication; unlike a phone call it left you with a permanent reminder and it was a huge improvement over a posted letter or company memo. Soon there was a fax in every office and most homes. Some executives even had them installed in their cars.

Productivity shot up.

Email, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel should have increased our productivity much further. Email did have a honeymoon period in the 1980s but the benefits were short-lived. The sheer amount of information and noise these paperless tools created undid the advantages they should have brought. Even the arrival of the smartphone has been as much a distraction as a help in the workplace.

Have I gone mad? I am after all one of the evangelists of the digital workplace – for the past 14 years I have talked, trained and chaired conferences on the advantages of using these new digital tools. But after all that time I struggle to show real examples of where a digital workplace intranet has improved a company’s bottom line. And that is pretty shocking.

The trouble is that words that can go around the world in an instant – irrespective of borders and hierarchies – are clogging up the way that our complex companies are set up to operate. We are using 21st-century tech in organizations that were mostly conceived in the 20th century.

Even Microsoft, which supplies the vast majority of the tools that we use in our working lives, has suffered from silo thinking in the way it uses its own products. Yammer, Teams, Outlook, SharePoint, and Office were all separate fiefdoms with their own roadmaps. Until CEO Satya Nadella turned up, even the means of integration were not integrated.  Perhaps it is not so surprising that since he started leading a strategy of integration through O365in the cloud, Microsoft’s share price has quadrupled.

At last, the leaders behind O365 are coming to terms with the complexity of the waffle of applications they have made for themselves. Teams, their most popular application since Outlook in terms of adoption is actually four functions combined in one, but it works because it feels like a single place to get things done. The nearest competitor, Enterprise Slack, is popular because it does one thing simply, but now that company has the expectations of shareholders on its back just watch it grow the features and complexity that will eventually be its demise.

Large organizations are complex enough – they don’t need more noise by adopting tools just because they can. Every knowledge worker will have at least six platforms they have to fire up to manage their daily work: one application for customers, another for accounts, a third for HR systems, then there’s the intranet and email plus whatever conferencing system they are forced to endure for virtual meetings.

So what to do?

Firstly, we can get the organization to agree on one application for each activity. If you are using MS Teams to work on projects then don’t use WhatsApp as well. If HR is on Peoplesoft in Cincinnati, then it probably should also use it in Changsha.

Secondly, we need to measure and analyse in real time what channels our colleagues are using and how useful they actually are to get the job done. Better to tweak a legacy system that everyone knows than to disrupt all for the sake of some new features.

But thirdly, and most importantly of all, we need to start developing some glue. We need a portal or application (call it what you will) that knows who you are, where you are, whether you are shopping or preparing a pitch, whether you are talking one-to-many or one-to-few.

We need an assistant who can read our mood as well as our diary, can find that document you need no matter where you happened to file it. We need to get away from the tyranny of the keyboard (particularly when we are on the move) and to be able to communicate and understand messages in more than our native tongue.

Andrew O’Shaughnessy – CEO of Poppulo – predicted to me that channel management would soon become a thing of the past for internal communications professionals. Instead, AI and ‘hyper-personalization’ which get the right message to the right person at the right time based on that individual’s past behavior.

Trying to get a complex organization to adopt a single common platform is like forcing an octopus into a pair of pantyhose. Let us settle on the applications that get the job done best for that particular part of the enterprise. Choose the vendor who is the one that listens most to your needs and can grow their product to fit your particular topography and complexity. Then look for the connectors that will knot this ecosystem of moving platforms together.

Our role is shifting from managing communications to managing the connections within our complex and ever-shifting organizations.

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