The effectiveness of personal communication in the digital and networked age
Undeniably, communication has changed in recent years, it has become faster but not necessarily more efficient. This applies to both internal and project communication and external interfaces. On inquiry of IT managers in medium-sized companies, the volume and necessary storage capacity in the area of email communication has not grown linearly, but exponentially. And fascinatingly, these have not increased through external communication such as sending orders and invoices via pdf but through internal communication. In addition, there have been many investments made in new virtual and supposedly faster communication channels such as video conferencing and chat systems. Skype, GoToMeeting or Microsoft teams are used as standard to overcome global networking and possible geographical distances faster. But has this increase in communication also brought the efficiency that was promised?
The challenge of new communication channels
In the context of project work, we unfortunately experience more often that tasks get lost in the flood of communication. A lot of time is spent on sorting and filtering the communication, but there is not enough time for the actual task and therefore things are left lying around for a long time. „Making a catch and getting things done“ was a recent feedback that is both understandable and shocking. Buyers complain about long reaction times of suppliers and the necessity of having to call several times to ask for information. Project managers complain about the lack of input from stakeholders and users. And yet there are these new and better communication channels. But on the one hand, the new communication channels cause a loss of focus – take, for example, the changed behavior in meetings and the constant distraction and interruption, and on the other hand, it is the multitude of different communication channels that you all have to keep an eye on in order to be able to react directly if necessary.
Linguists have found very clear differences between the written and the spoken word and this is not surprising. Since one can grasp the tonality of the spoken word or even recognize the facial expressions and gestures of the speaker, this reduces one’s own room for interpretation of the words. And yet the written word is becoming more and more important and is felt to have displaced its competitor in the evolution of communication. The communication with customers via well-known platforms (Telegram, WhatsApp, snapchat) is not celebrated as an innovation, but is considered as a standard in online business. And the written word is not only less efficient due to its scope for interpretation – as a rule, you can speak the same number of words faster than you type.
Are there solutions to increase efficiency?
If you look at project management teaching and agile methods, you will see that agility does not require digitalization, but rather works in a very analogue way and relies on personal and direct exchange. It is clear to see that in companies that have successfully anchored agile methods in their corporate culture, a classic task board or Kanban board is even very haptic and personal meetings are preferred to virtual ones. Instead of reading a lot between the famous lines, the direct contact, the direct conversation and, if necessary, the video chat or the telephone helps.
Think about what, apart from sleeping hours, has been the longest analog time and smart communication detox phase in the last year and how that time felt. Conscious communication takes place on the personal level and is much deeper in its effect. We do not want to fulfill this cliché of the film wall-e.
Rainer den Ouden
Partner, ADCONIA GmbH