What you’ll learn to do: Discuss the shift from paper to digital communication
We will examine both traditional and digital business communication techniques.
We will identify the most common form of each and discuss the benefits of each. We will discuss how the growth of digital communication has transformed how we work today.
- Discuss the shift from traditional to modern communication methods
- Identify benefits of digital communication methods
- Identify benefits of traditional communication methods
Modernizing Business Messages
The advances in information technology, and especially the widespread use of the Internet, have brought dramatic change to the way business communication is conducted. This in turn has precipitated change in the very way that we work today.
Traditional written business communication consisted of letters, memos, brochures, etc. that all shared the same media: paper. Modern written business communication consists of those as well but now is utilizing digital media. The move to digital communication methods has seen expanded communication techniques such as email, instant messaging, texting, posting, chatting and more. We will discuss these in more detail later.
Digital business communication has not only seen the expansion of communication in general but has transformed the way we work thanks to near instant methods of communication. First, since we are now “always” connected, there is the tendency to always be at work. But this change in communication has also brought some good news as traditional work hours have given way to flexible work time for many businesses. Secondly, we have seen a shift from direct manager-to-employee reporting relationships to a more team-oriented, “flattened” collaborative organizational structure. Third, where we work has become less structured as well with the advent of virtual workplaces and remote employees.
Dell’s Connected Workplace
The Dell company, known for computers and electronics, is a prime example of the impact electronic communication has had on modern work practices. The increased use of digital communication platforms to conduct work allowed Dell to develop the Connected Workplace program. This program promotes employees to work remotely, meaning employees can work from anywhere in the world as long as they have internet access.
Some of Dell’s North American employees who opted to work remotely relocated to ski areas in Canada to take advantage of their mobile status. Some employees work Sunday through Thursday from 12:30pm to 9:30pm so as to better coordinate with team members based in other time zones. This then allows them to spend their morning and weekend free time on the slopes. In 2012, Dell expanded their “Flexibility and Mobility” program to seventy three sites in twenty nine countries representing twenty five percent of eligible employees.
Digital Communication Methods
The benefits of digital communication for society in general are nicely stated by Mitchell Kapor:
Digital communications media are inherently capable of being more interactive, more participatory, more egalitarian, more decentralized, and less hierarchical. As such, the types of social relations and communities which can be built on these media share these characteristics.
For the professional business environment, the four primary benefits of digital communication methods are as follows:
- Communication is instant and fast-paced.
- Communication is extensive.
- Communication is convenient.
- Communication contributes to positive social change.
Instant and Fast-Paced Communication
Communication using digital techniques is instant. As soon as the sender hits the Submit, Enter, or Send key, the message is available to the audience in a matter of microseconds. The business benefit of instant communication is obvious—little to no delay of valuable information being sent to individuals, customers, or the organization. Responding to a competitor’s new product release, informing colleagues of project status, scheduling an “all-hands” meeting, and acknowledging a customer complaint are all accomplished nearly instantly.
Another benefit of digital business communication is that it is extensive. One email message or text message can be easily routed to thousands of employees at the same time. A post on social media can be seen by millions of customers. Never before have we had the “reach” that a single digital communication can provide. Additionally, digital communications can be extensive in their contents as well; while sending a printed forty-page report by mail has associated costs, it’s virtually cost-free to send the same content digitally.
Digital business communication is convenient, which serves to foster better communication. Computer programmers can relay information to their development team with a few mouse clicks, which means that they are more likely to do so. Additionally, the fact that digital communication is instant and extensive also contributes to the convenience of using these techniques.
Communication for Change
Finally, the advent of digital communication in the business environment has contributed to positive social change and served to change the environment itself. Always being connected may not seem to be a benefit at first glance, but if that factors into more flexible work hours, employees may be happier at work. A team-oriented workforce, which tends to foster sharing and support among team members, has been shown to contribute to greater employee productivity and success. And who does not appreciate a shorter—or even non-existent—commute? Virtual and remote offices have also been credited with tangible benefits to employees.
Traditional Communication Methods
Traditional methods of business communication tend to mean paper-based messages such as formal letters, brochures, reports, proposals, and notes. Based on the advantages of using digital communication discussed above, why would we wish to continue to use traditional means?
There are several reasons why these traditional methods of communication still have their place:
- Reader preference
- Storage and archive
One of most important elements of any type of communication is how effective the message is. Communication is most effective when the message is clearly received by the intended audience. Some people prefer to read information from a sheet of paper rather than a device screen or prefer to read a novel from a hard-bound book versus a on a tablet device. Human senses come into play in communication, and touch is a very strong human trait. In communication, it’s all about the receiver instead of the sender, so by putting the receiver of the communication first, the message will be more effective.
Storage and Archive
Another advantage of traditional communication methods is in the storage of documents. Many organizations today believe in having a hard-copy document to back up electronic records. Servers and mainframes have been known to crash with an ensuing loss of data. Despite the fact that emails, texts and other digital communication have been found to be legally binding, the storage and archiving of paper documents continues to be important since electronic storage is not foolproof.
A third advantage of traditional communication techniques is closely related to data storage: data security. Data breaches and malicious hacker attacks have shown that no electronic record is completely safe, even with firewalls and cyber-security software.
While convenience was listed above as a benefit of digital communication, it is also a benefit of traditional communication. In order to open an email or read a text or scan a social media post, you must have a functioning device that is connected to the internet. We all know that there are times when we are unable to be online thanks to poor signal coverage or the dreaded dead battery. There are even times when we wish to be disconnected on purpose to have a bit of a break.
Finally, traditional communication methods can make a good impression and improve the receiver’s perception of the message sender. How many of us find it a little overwhelming to wade through a mountain of email, texts and social media posts every day? A simple thing like a business letter on upgraded stationary has been shown to differentiate a sender from others. A formal written proposal sent to a customer usually gets opened, in contrast to an email that is flagged for later or marked as unread. A hand-written note is almost always opened right away because of its novelty.