Friday, 20 May 2016

A glimpse into the future of business communications

“Future Fit Communications: Connecting trends, strategies & actions” This lively event was hosted by the International Association of Business Communications (IABC) UK this week. Gloria Lombardi reports.

By Gloria Lombardi

Communicating the soul of the business matters more than ever.

Futurist Matt O'Neill was one of the speakers who shared their experiences at “Future Fit Communications: Connecting trends, strategies & actions.” This lively event was hosted by IABC UK at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in London this week.

For O'Neill, the soul of a company is going to become an important part of what business communicators will focus on in the future.

From a communicator's point of view, there are at least three big questions that O'Neill suggests considering: How will this company change lives? Why should people trust us? And, from an individual's perspective, how will working for this company enhance my personal and professional goals?

Indeed, one of the reasons for reflecting on O'Neill suggestions is the shift in values that we are witnessing in our society. This shift is in part influenced by the new generation of workers. O'Neill cited the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, which indicates that 87% of Gen Y employees are looking for purpose when selecting an employer. Surely, “something more than just performance.” And, while pay and benefits are still the dominant factor, 56% of Millennials would refuse to work for a company because of their values.

Yet, some fundamental changes will come from the top. A good example is a shift from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism that some leaders have started to embrace. This new form of capitalism looks at sustainability from the lens of all of a company's stakeholders as opposed to some narrow and limiting sustainability practices.

The power of visuals

People remember 80% of visual communications. They only remember 20% of what is read.

The move from text to visualisation that O'Neill liked to emphasise is back up by research. According to Cisco Visual Networking index 2016, 75% of all mobile traffic will be video by 2020. 67% of all connected mobile devices will be 'smart.' But perhaps, even more curious is the fact that connectivity is creating new forms of visual media. These include 3D imagery such as Holographic and Lenticular.

Additionally, we are witnessing “the growth of DIY visual tools.” Good examples are Vizualise.me, which allows people to create an infographic of their CV in one click, and Canva.com, which is enabling anyone without design skills to produce presentations and quality graphics. Worth mentioning is also Typorama - it was the 5th most downloaded app in the Photo and Video category last year. Typorama is letting “people with literally zero experience design something really compelling.”

Lastly, O'Neill brought to attention the enormous amount of data that we create every day. Hence, the emergence and need of real-time data visualisation tools to help us make sense of the complex world we are living. A good example is Google Music timeline.

Artificial Intelligence

The topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) could not be missed from a presentation about the future of communication. In fact, the phenomenon is appealing not just to professionals in technology, but to communicators. Just think of the impact that AI is having on news gathering and reporting.

O'Neill mentioned the Mediamass.net project, the satirical site that uses the power of algorithms to generate entirely fake news and articles in the name of humour. Indeed, there is seriousness into something that has been put as a joke!

However, AI could be used to help organisations operate better, and intelligently. In fact, the technology can process data for pattern discovery, make inferences, discern contexts, learn and improve over time. As startup advisor Steve Ardire told me in a recent interview, Al could help communicators make sense of the conversations happening on enterprise social networks (ESN).

Mind the mind

cLet's make looking after our mind as natural as brushing our teeth.

The presentation by Andy Gibson of Mindapples centred on having open conversations around mental health at work. And the importance of improving the language when addressing this topic.

In fact, inside many organisations, mental health is still seen as a sort of taboo. Something to avoid discussing. But Gibson believes that the human mind is the most sophisticated tool in the whole nature. Each of us is in charge of one. Yet, half of the time it feels as if it is in charge of us. So, “we need to take the power back.”

Indeed, he asked the audience: “What's the 5-a-day of your mind?” He encouraged people to understand that “it starts with you."

After all, there are good reasons why we should talk more about stress at work. First, stress is bad for our health. It redirects energy that people would otherwise spend on recharging and resting.

Another good reason is that stress affects decision-making, risk-taking, and creativity. We become less creative when we are under stress. Indeed, as Gibson put it: “Stress is a great way to get intelligent people do stupid things.”

And, stress impacts on employee engagement. Negatively. In fact, we often hear that “a little bit of stress is good for you.”

But Gibson pointed out that we need to talk about how people feel in the workplace. Not just about how they perform. Because “people who are engaged but still stressed, ultimately burn out.”