Digital tools are driving workplace communication — is this a good thing?
December 21, 2018
RENO, Nev. — Recently, Talage CEO Adam Kiefer was having a lengthy discussion with a colleague over the digital communication tool Slack when he decided to move the conversation to a face-to-face.
So what did he do?
"I was like, this is ridiculous … I should just turn around," Kiefer told the NNBV. "We have an open floor plan in our office, but you still have people talking on Slack who sit four feet away from each other. But it's easy to do, so you get caught up in it."
Talage Insurance, a Reno-based tech company that provides a digital marketplace for small business insurance, is not alone in its dependence on digital communication tools in the workplace.
According to Slack's website, more than 70,000 (and counting) paying companies use its cloud-based service — equating to 8 million daily active users — including 65 companies from the Fortune 100.
"We joke that Slack is our brainstem," said Allison Clift-Jennings, CEO of Reno-based Filament, a provider of software solutions in the Internet of Thing (IoT) sector. "We have 65 channels or something that we use for various projects and efforts. So it's very, very important to us. We actually don't use email at all internally as a company, we only use Slack."
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Added Kiefer: "From a versatility standpoint, it's pretty incredible for us. When a new customer buys a product from us, Slack notifies us that they're shopping, so we can help them through the process if we need to."
And Slack is just one of countless business applications used to streamline workplace communication and customer service. On any given day, organizations are internally volleying countless texts, IMs, DMs and emails back and forth.
FINDING A BALANCE
Simply put, digital communication is driving workplace functionality — from social media to Slack — and it's only going to accelerate.
And this can present challenges, said Clift-Jennings. Specifically, the lack of face-to-face communication can lead to — you guessed it — miscommunications.
"Studies have shown 75 percent or more of communication happens between people in a nonverbal fashion," she said. "So when you move to only nonverbal communication, digital or otherwise, you're only getting 25 percent of what you really should be communicating with each other. Oftentimes that's enough. But in many situations, we find it's not."
According to a survey by NFI Research, 67 percent of senior executives and managers say their organization would be more productive if superiors communicated face-to-face more often.
This points to why Filament has a hierarchy of communication methods, of sorts. Clift-Jennings said the company is adamant about "when to escalate a discussion" from one medium to another — from text to Slack to phone call to face-to-face.
"If you're going to do something really quick, you can text somebody," she elaborated. "But if you're going to have a discussion about some initiatives, you might need to do a Slack message. If you want to actually figure out strategy, you may need to do a video call. And if you're going to talk about promotions or things that can be emotional or very, very large, they probably need to be in person."
Kiefer agreed. He said the key is finding a balance between communicating digitally and in-person — and knowing when the latter is needed.
"It's a you-know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing," Kiefer said. "If somebody is doing a great job or needs to pick up the slack a little bit, we found sitting down and telling somebody, 'hey, we're giving you a raise' or 'we're going to promote you' … whatever it is, it's felt better than sending a quick text message that says, 'oh yeah, hey, you're next paycheck will be bigger.'"
Kiefer added that workplace culture is hard to be built over email or Slack channels.
"You need people physically there and interacting with each other," he said. "That's how you develop friendships, and I don't think there is really any way that you can replace that."
Along with being tethered to technology for work purposes, employees' attention span and focus is tested by everyday digital distractions — from new Instagram follows to Facebook scrolling — throughout the workday.
In fact, 75 percent of Americans blame digital notifications for their procrastination and lack of focus at work, according to a Branded Research survey. The report said workers spend nearly an eight-hour workdays' amount of time checking notifications through the course of one week.
At Talage, however, Kiefer said they don't worry about those distractions. In fact, being a digital company, they encourage employees to be active on LinkedIn and Facebook.
"We obviously expect people to be grown ups and get their jobs done," he said. "But we don't try to micromanage in terms of their social media use."
Filament doesn't pay any mind to team members' frequency of posts, tweets, grams, snaps and the like, either.
"Posting to social media during the workday, I think that's fine," Clift-Jennings said. "We don't really care; we don't micromanage that. And we haven't had a problem with that so far. People will use it when they want. Like anything, if it's starting to impact deliverables that particular team members have committed to, then we have a discussion.”