IF you’re a people watcher like me, you’ve probably noticed a widespread social phenomenon in our community and beyond that represents a distinct and interesting shift in people’s communication behaviour.
For instance, if you recall, years ago when smoking was popular, you would see a group of individuals gathering and/ or walking down the street with a cigarette in hand.
Then, as smoking began to be socially taboo, we started to see people gathering in groups and/or walking down the street with a paper coffee cup in hand. Of course, being observant, we would quickly check to see if the coffee brand was Tim Hortons or Starbucks. Frankly, not being a coffee drinker, I didn’t understand the difference until someone informed me it is not just the taste of coffee, but it is the culture of the brand that is important.
So where are we today? Well, as a people watcher, I’m sure you’ve noticed another shift. And that shift is from the coffee cup to the Blackberry or iPhone device. At least with a coffee cup in hand, people tended to look straight ahead while they were talking. However, with a smartphone in your hand, an individual communicates by looking down at the device. The person beside them on the sidewalk doesn’t seem to matter and as well, with a “heads down” focused approach to walking and talking, someone could easily step right in front of traffic. Dangerous to say the least.
However, there’s another shift that’s taking place. With all the new devices we’ve gravitated to, people today are connected 24/7, and this has changed how we find and absorb information and how we interact with others. It has also impacted the level of skill development we need, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.
What does all this mean? In my view, it means everyone has to pay much closer attention to what we say, who we say it to, how we say it and when we say it. Not only that, the expectations for communication have shifted. We are now expected to be available 24-7-365. We need to be responsive and accessible because people want their information NOW!
Yet, there is danger lurking in our new communication world. That’s because most individuals are not trained communication specialists. They don’t realize attention must be paid to identifying and getting the attention of a particular target audience and carefully selecting the words needed to convey the right message. They don’t realize sharing information they perceive as humorous might well offend an unintended audience who receives the message from another party. They don’t realize sharing inappropriate information itself speaks loudly about their own personal values. And they also don’t realize their message can go around the world in 30 seconds and continue to circulate for weeks, months and years.
A second danger is the fact most cellphone devices and mobile tablets these days also have photo capability. Suddenly, everyone is an amateur news reporter, snapping photos and submitting them to television and newspaper editors. Within no time at all, the photo is flashed around the world and becomes new “breaking news” that travels at the speed of light through television, radios, cellphones and other mobile devices.
It’s true many of us feel comforted that we are “in the know.” However, we also all know someone who has been disciplined at work and/ or lost their job for misbehaviour captured by someone’s cellphone. In fact, managers complain of being inundated with complaints of inappropriate email messages. Then again, we can all name a politician whose reputation has been ruined as a result of leaked photos, inappropriate emails, and/or Facebook messages.
In addition, the combination of mobile technology, social-media issues and our new social culture of “instant response” is creating pressure on organizations. From a customer-service perspective, at least 53 per cent of people using Twitter today expect a response within one hour. It’s also reported 43 per cent of individuals making an online request also expect a response within one hour. Another 66 per cent of customers expect at least a same-day response. Failing to meet these expectations causes negative feelings about the brand with more than 60 per cent saying they would not hesitate to make their negative feelings known. Many organizations are forced to re-examine their customer-service policies and guidelines.
Human-resource management is also being significantly impacted by the explosion of mobile technology and socialmedia sites and the fact work and home life is becoming blurred. Many organizations now expect their employees to be available 24/7 despite the fact employees may be paying for their own mobile devices. However, this raises a common issue: Should the employer be paying for the mobile devices if they expect employees to be available?
Social media and technology are certainly creating challenges for human-resource managers. Many are scrambling to develop and implement policies and guidelines in order to deal with the issue of social media. On one hand, recruiters value being able to use social-media sites to search and source potential candidates. On the other hand, employees don’t want to see their employees wasting valuable time on Internet gambling or shopping sites.
Yet, these days it is the blurring of home/ work and the use of social media and technology that’s causing the most anxiety for HR managers and senior leaders. The question is, “Should an employer be concerned about employee behaviour outside of work hours?” Most employees consider social media as their personal platform for free speech and reject employer intervention as valid. Therefore, it is important for employers to provide guidelines with respect to what is considered acceptable behaviour in the use of social media, both at work and on one’s own time. Be sure to include social media and Internet usage in your discipline process and provide clear examples of what would not be acceptable.
While our interpersonal social-communication journey has gradually moved from smoking folks to coffee groups, the world of technology is exploding with new devices being announced every day. We seem to continually be confronted with a “new frontier” that propels both informal and formal communication in different directions. While there are always many advantages to these new ways of doing things, there are also many challenges for organizations that arise. Yet, there is no going back. People want and like being connected 24/7. They want news and information right now in real time. Therefore, we have no choice. We must have the personal goal of at least staying parallel with technology changes and, if possible, we need to stay ahead of the game.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group and president of Career Partners International, Manitoba. She
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org