Who you calling a dinosaur? – The future of business communication
I am a 34 year Project Manager working in the UK nuclear industry. Up until the age of 22 I played rugby on a professional basis so only started my business career later in life.
My first job was in a branch of a retail bank. When I started business was conducted over the phone or face-to-face. There was no emails and internet banking was only just about to start. Comms was via telephone, voicemail, mail or fax.
I spent 6 years at the retail bank in various roles as Customer Advisor, Branch Manager and Area Sales Manager. During that time a lot developed but comms remained dominated by telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings. Internal comms however had taken a huge move into email which started to consume a lot of the day with company briefs, monthly sales targets, email conversations and company gossip.
As I embarked a new challenge working in nuclear engineering I encountered a new shift in the balance of daily business comms. At the bank most of the workers were around my age in the branch network. However, engineering in the UK has an ageing population and this is even more the case for nuclear engineering. I was met with telephones (old 1950's brown ones!), fax machines but most meetings were undertaken face-to-face. Email was available and used via Lotus Notes to formalise business comms – mostly as follow ups to confirm conversions that had just been had.
In the 7 years that I’ve been working in nuclear although not all technology has been embraced – some for good reason to maintain security integrity – a lot has changed and video conferences, webinars, shared screen design reviews are being more widely used. However, I still find that the overriding medium for comms is via the telephone. The swing is moving more and more to 50/50 email to telephone but telephone is still the preferred method.
At the start of this year, outside of my day-to-day I have lent my time to support a new venture. This involves working very closely with a group of young professionals in their early 20's. For someone who is used to being at least 20 years younger than most of my colleagues the way in which business is now being conducted by Generation Y is via Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter with the occasional email thrown in. Don’t get me wrong the telephone is used but sparingly and as a last resort – don’t even think about leaving an voicemail without being looked at as a dinosaur. If I send a WhatsApp at 2pm on a Sunday, I’ll get a reply within 10 minutes, if I call at 2pm Tuesday I may get a call back – if at all – within 2 days.
Initially I found this massively frustrating. What I’m used to and if it was up to me I’d be on the phone every morning with a face-to-face meeting every afternoon. However, after a bit of self reflection, I realised I am working in their business space and I am that dinosaur in the comms world. We continue to work on a day-to-day basis via WhatsApp and this is very effective – more so than to telephone/email convos that I’m used to. Email is left to formal comms or the odd message that is too large to message over. This is great as email stays just that; mail – not chat. We will have the odd catch up phone call – 2 per month at most which is great and allows for a good catch-up and the spitball of a couple of ideas.
So what does this all mean for communications throughout business today? These Guys are tearing up the business world today either rising the ladders of global companies or creating their own companies and making their own rules. In a way it makes me smile that the social platforms are enabling an arguably more effective means of business communications. On the other hand I despair a little because if I’m considered a dinosaur at 34 where does that leave the current workforce in their 40's, 50's, 60's who have 10+ years of work left – will they be left behind? Or will the telephone prevail as the quintessential business communication method for the generations and the new-breed of business will have to be realigned?
Furthermore, my 17 year god kid proclaimed just last week that “only old people use WhatsApp”. Does this mean the current Generation Y are soon to be the dinosaurs? Where does that leave me?