Communication at work is different than it was just ten years ago. The days of faxes, telephone calls and memos are over, and in their place is a technologically connected office space. This allows for almost constant feedback and availability. Office communication technology has been both applauded and tolerated, but when used correctly, it can be an integral part of improving communication in the workplace.

Office Communication Technology & Today’s Workplace

It wasn’t long ago that when an employee left the office, they were no longer connected to the goings on of the workplace. Now, thanks to office communication technology, communication at work and when we leave work has fundamentally changed.

In fact, modern-day workers demand connectivity and technology. More than one-in-three members of the American workforce are millennials, making them the largest generation in our labor force currently. This age group grew up adapting to new technology and welcomes it in the workplace. They’re also adept at using new forms of technology to improve communication.

“From facilitating communication across distances to utilizing new digital solutions in the workplace, the opportunities provided by technology are endless, and it’s the young adults of the millennial generation that know this and are positioned to harness its full potential,” said Gabriel de Diego Zori, HR planning and strategy director at Telefónica.

Companies have responded to millennials expertise and comfort with technology. Even email seems to have become outdated with the rise of instant messaging and video conferencing. Printers grow dusty as most of our work is saved in the cloud instead of in a stack on desks. Furthermore, flexibility is spawned by this connectivity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 23% of American workers did at least some work from their home in 2017, a percentage that would have been impossible to fathom at the turn of the century.

These changes have no doubt had an impact on how communication at work functions, for better or worse. To understand how the developments in technology have and can influence communication, we must look at what creates effective workplace communication.

Effective Workplace Communication

Studies have shown that ineffective workplace communication can cost companies an average of $420,000 per year. Thus, effective communication is paramount to the success of organizations.

No matter how workplace communication is executed, there are some tenants of effective communication that ring true despite the medium. There are five components to any type of communication:

  1. The sender: The person presenting the message
  2. The context: The nonverbal communication, including body language and tone
  3. The receiver: The person listening to the message
  4. The delivery method: How the message is communicated
  5. The content: The information that needs to be communicated

When it comes to workplace communication, the sender needs to convey a clear message through the best delivery method possible. The receiver then must interpret that message clearly. The most effective communication is facilitated when the sender is clear, specific and personal. The receiver must listen carefully, read the context appropriately and ask for clarification when needed. Finally, all of this must happen through the best delivery method possible.

With technology, the delivery method itself, such as instant message or email, can either enhance or interfere with both the context of the message and the clarity of the content. Before simply taking advantage of the ease of workplace technology, you should consider the mode by which your message will be clearest and most likely to be interpreted correctly.

Technology should be used in workplace communication and has many benefits, but without proper training, guidelines and thought, its hard for companies to see reap the rewards of evolving technology.

Improving Communication in the Workplace through Technology

While technology used incorrectly can impede communication, it can facilitate highly efficient and clear communication at its best.

Anna Pickard, a creative director at Slack said, ”We’ve gotten used to having a tool for everything, but that means a lot of context switching and wasting time trying to remember what you were doing before you leapt from here to there to do the last thing you did before the next thing you really had to do.”

She goes on to recommend that all companies consider organizing the tools, figuring out which ones are efficient, which ones are time wasters and how and in what situations they should be used. While technology like Slack, instant messaging and even email is fantastic, it’s important to know when to call a face-to-face meeting or simply pick up the phone to keep an email chain from droning on or to stop IM conversations from interrupting your entire day.

Here are some fantastic ways that technology is improving communication in the workplace when the proper thought and guidelines are applied.

Connecting Employees from All Over

Because increasingly more people are working remotely at least part of the time and because many companies have multiple offices, technology like Skype, Slack and other popular platforms help keep teams connected. Being able to hop on a video conference call and talk things out with a coworker across the globe is not only incredible but decreases the chances of miscommunication that could become costly in terms of money and time. If a team is large and spread out, leaders must provide the right technology to allow their employees to connect at the right times.

Documenting Conversations

Chat logs that can be referenced at later dates provide great documentation to teams. Once relying simply on memory of phone calls or notes from meetings, teams now can simply scroll up to have access to what they discussed with bosses and coworkers days before. The key is to ensure that tools are used properly and segmented so that multiple conversations don’t bury important information that team members may need to reference later. Leaders can ensure that documentation is effective by providing guidelines for what can be discussed in certain tools.

Managing Projects

Technology, such as Basecamp and other project management applications, allow leaders to have a central hub of project activity that everyone can reference from wherever they may be. This makes it easier than ever to track project, see what’s coming up in the future and document comments and issues in one easily accessible place. The key to these tools being effective is using their functionality to meet the needs of your company. Even the best project management tool will be inefficient if the process and flow is not set and communicated clearly with teams.

When technology in the workplace is used intentionally to improve communication, it can have incredible results for team productivity. The key is to know when and how technology should be used and when it’s best to just pick up the phone or swing by a coworker’s desk. Technology should never be used because it’s the easy way out and much thought should be put into how it’s incorporated into companies’ plans.

You can help to improve communication at work with a master’s in communication online degree from Point Park University. This degree specifically addresses the rapid changes in the way we communicate and the technology propelling that change. Blending theory with practice, you’ll be ready to tackle the communication evolution head on.