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Archive for the 'Future of Communication' Category

One of the more intriguing effects of social media is the way these tools have put organizational culture on public display. Companies that might have once been known mostly by products, headquarters architecture, and advertising campaigns are now also represented (officially and unofficially) by legions of bloggers, YouTube producers, and Twitter users. Professionals and managers who used to be invisible to the outside world are now presented in rich detail on LinkedIn. Glassdoor and other platforms give employees the chance to vent or boast about the conditions in their workplaces.

Few companies show off their internal culture with the quite the gusto of C3, a customer communications outsourcer based in Plantation, Florida. The company's Facebook page looks more like an internal employee social network than one of the official faces of a corporation with a global footprint. You'll find more photos of office birthday parties and costume-day getups than you will official company announcements or marketing messages.

This inside-out approach to communication is by design, according to C3's marketing VP Alicia Laszewski. Quoted in Workforce Management, she explains that it's part of a strategy to position the company as a great place to work, which helps attract employees (and, presumably, clients who want to outsource their customer contact work to a company populated by happy employees). "If your campaign is about people loving the work environment, you'd better create a company where people really love to come to work. If not, it's just a marketing campaign." Hence the party-hat, pajama-clad atmosphere of the Facebook page.

As the Internet-raised generation moves onto and up the corporate ladder, we can expect more companies to put themselves on public display like this. Will the gap between external image and internal reality collapse as a result? How will this affect the practice of corporate communications, which has long had control, or at least the illusion of control, over how the company was presented to the outside world?

With this and other communication matters to ponder, we'll leave you with best wishes for a relaxing summer. We'll see you again as the fall semester approaches. Have a great summer!



One of the more intriguing aspects of age diversity in the workplace is the degree to which technology has shaped the communication habits and preferences of each generation. For instance, Generation Y (roughly speaking, those born between 1981 and 1995) has a well-documented preference for electronic media, from texting to IM to social networking. Coupled with a generally more casual approach to information privacy, this reliance on electronic media can clash with the habits and expectations of older workers and managers.

As Generation Y continues to move into workplace and up the managerial ladder, these cultural mismatches are only going to get more common. Moreover, as a recent article in Workforce Management ("Gen Y Execs Shake Up Office Culture") points out, this generation's embrace of entrepreneurship is creating new organizational cultures built around electronic media.

The differences in technology preferences can be significant on their own, but the changes run much deeper than just the tools themselves, of course. Here are some of the issues to consider:

  • Lean versus rich media. Lean media, those with the fewest informational cues and least potential for feedback or personalization, are at the core of this culture clash. For example, Baby Boomers accustomed to walking down the hall to a colleague's office or using their phones for actual voice communication are sometimes dismayed at the tendency of younger workers to fire off a terse text message in situations where they believe a more nuanced live conversation would be more effective. Gen Yers, for their part, can sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about, having grown up texting and IMing.
  • Synchronous communication with real-time feedback. Richer media, including phone and face-to-face conversations, can make it much easier to resolve misunderstandings and negotiate shared meanings. We've probably all had the experience of getting stuck in time-consuming email loops where neither side seems to be getting the message, only to resolve the confusion with a quick phone call.
  • A comfort level with distributed, virtual team communication. As networked and even unstructured organizations become more common and traditional employment gives way to independent contracting for many workers, the ability to communicate without a fixed organizational framework is becoming increasingly important. For all their perceived shortcomings in other areas, Gen Y communicators have a big head start here—and could be developing information encoding and decoding methods that work well in this environment but are perhaps underappreciated by older communicators because they don't fit established patterns and process models.
  • Illusions of communication efficiency and effectiveness. Every mode is vulnerable to the illusion that communication efforts are successful, of course, but email and other asynchronous modes are particularly prone to this because it is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that hitting the "send" or "publish" button is the same thing as communicating.
  • Attitudes about privacy and sharing. These concerns range from publishing sensitive company information (or inappropriate personal information) to treating information as a resource to be shared, rather than as a "power lever" to be hoarded and used selectively.

Given the range of important differences involved in media choices, how far should the business communication course move toward reflecting these emerging preferences? There is never enough time to cover everything we'd like to cover, naturally, so how do we find the optimum balance? For instance, many instructors like to devote time to telephone skills, and understandably so, but should some of that time be shifted over to skill development with instant messaging (as one example), given the shifts in workplace habits? On the other hand, one can argue that the very lack of practice and finesse with phone conversations makes this mode even more important to cover in the business communication course.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you've already made changes in your topic coverage or teaching style to accommodate these evolving habits and preferences.

 

Image credit: woodleywonderworks



Newsfeeds from blogs and other online publishers can be a great way to stay on top of developments in any field. However, anyone who has signed up for more than a few RSS feeds has probably experienced the "firehose effect" of getting so many feeds so quickly that it becomes impossible to stay on top of them. Moreover, when a highly active publisher feeds every new article, from the essential to the trivial, the reader is left to sort it all out every day.

An intriguing alternative to newsfeeds is media curation, in which someone with expertise or interest in a particular field collects and republishes material on a particular topic. Business Communication Headline News, for instance, was one of the earliest examples of media curation in the field of business communication.

The latest curation tools, such as Scoop.it, make it easy to assemble attractive online magazines or portfolios on specific topics. To see these tools in action, check out Bovee & Thill's Online Magazines for Business Communication:

  • Business Communication 2.0: Social Media and Electronic Communication
  • Teaching Visual Communication
  • Teaching a Modern Business Communication Course
  • Teaching Business Communication and Employment
  • Teaching Business Communication and Workplace Issues
  • Teaching Business Communication and Interpersonal Communication

And on the right side of our Scoop.it home page, you can see the many curated magazines that we follow as well.

Curation promises to bring the power of community and shared expertise to a lot of different fields, and we're excited to see how it will shape business communication.

See media curation video.



Happy New Year! From everyone on the Bovée-Thill team, we wish you a successful new term.

Looking at what lies ahead for business communication, this recent article in Workforce Magazine certainly caught our attention. The consulting firm MBO Partners predicts that over half the U.S. workforce will be independent by 2020. Reaching that threshold would require an increase from 16 million independent workers today to 70 million in just eight years, but even if the eventual growth falls short of that forecast, the rapid increase in unattached professionals is dramatically reshaping the nature of business—and business communication.

The sheer number is not the only important change going on here, either. In past years, corporate refugees made up an important share of the independent workforce. We know from our own experience that these people often benefited from the mentoring, formal training, "safe" learning opportunities, and professional networking that corporate structures can provide. When they went solo, they took these skills and connections with them.

However, with the spread of virtual organizations, the increase in freelance project work, and the weak employment market, we suspect that many workers will take—or be forced to take—the independent route without the broad skill sets that former corporate employees have.

Not only will more workers be operating outside a formal organization structure, in other words, but a significant number are likely to be fending for themselves without the benefit of much organizational communication experience at all.

Depending on how this scenario plays out in the coming years, the implications for business communication education could be profound. As freelance work has gone mainstream, from a relative rarity to an accepted career path to the very model on which some companies operate, the assumption that business communication takes place largely within a defined organizational context is becoming less and  less valid.

Moreover, in this new world of work, business communication skills will become even more important than they are now. On the one hand, less-skilled communicators without the support of an organization to carry them along face a rough future as independents. Even experienced corporate pros can be shocked at the demands that suddenly being one's own salesforce puts on their persuasion and negotiation skills. Many freelancers are in nearly constant job-search mode, always scrambling for the next project and the next client.

On the other hand, skilled communicators can use their talents to land the most interesting and profitable projects and to build sustaining client relationships that ease the pressure of constantly needing to sell, sell, sell.

We've addressed virtual work and networked organizations in our textbooks for some time now, and we'll continue to adapt our coverage and content as the business landscape changes. In the meantime, we invite you to share your thoughts on how this seismic shift could change the practice and study of business communication.

One this is certain: The communication skills you are helping your students develop now are going to mean the difference between struggle, survival, and success in the future.