The telephone changed the way we communicate at work — so did the fax machine, the personal computer, and, of course, the internet. But until recently, communication technology hadn’t changed where we do our work.
In 2019, nearly a quarter of U.S. employees worked from home at least some of the time. This year, in response to a global pandemic that has made it unsafe to gather, almost half of U.S. employers have instituted remote work policies. This transition shows how technology has changed workplace communication — it has made remote conversation as productive as an in-person gathering.
New technologies allow teams to collaborate and share information without having to be in the same room, paving the way for the remote office. Here are a few of the communication technologies that have blazed a path toward telework and telecommuting, along with how they’ve altered the flow of information at work.
1. Mobile telecommunications products keep us connected 24-7
First off, yes, the always-on work culture that comes with our umbilical tethering to mobile devices ultimately harms productivity. That said, the same technology gives you the ability to pop out of work for a doctor’s appointment or a child’s clarinet recital.
Being able to carry our work in our pockets has created more flexible schedules along with working weekends; for good and for ill, we don’t have to hover around the telephone waiting for that business-critical call anymore.
2. Videoconferencing platforms simulate face-to-face communication with global reach
Facial expressions and body language convey a huge amount of information — more so, perhaps, than the words we speak. Videoconferencing allows teammates to hold important workplace conversations without losing the visual cues that add to the message.
“People tend to think of communication in a very archaic, 20th-century way,” says Jenn Thornton, of 304 Coaching. “They think of it as information delivered, and that’s it. But communication isn’t just ‘information delivered.’ It’s working with things we can’t change — how the brain perceives information — to help people open up and co-create in the workplace.”
Thanks to videoconferencing, staff can co-create from across town (or oceans) with many of the advantages of a shared office.
3. Cloud-based collaboration lets us co-create documents from a distance
No amount of editorial conversation can compare with actually making an edit, especially when the document remembers who made which change and when and can revert to the original draft with the click of a mouse. Cloud services like Google Docs and Microsoft Teams allow us to draft, edit, proof, and comment on our workplace creations remotely.
In short, cloud collaboration allows far-flung teammates to contribute to a document without ever touching a physical page. That ability alone goes a long way toward removing the physical proximity requirements that defined the workplaces of earlier generations.
4. Channel-based messaging platforms organize our group conversations
The fact that 43 percent of businesses in the Fortune 100 pay for Slack services suggests how deeply messaging apps have become embedded in our workplace communication. (If you’re not a fan of Slack, check out our list of other team messenger services.)
These platforms give us the ability to separate different conversations into channels. They allow instant and asynchronous communication in the same thread. They also make more discussions public, helping to keep the whole team on the same digital page. The end result is a more agile communication pipeline.
5. Online forms collect bulk data from disparate sources
Sometimes you need a message to flow from many responders to a single decision-maker. Employers may want feedback from employees. Managers may need to collect ideas from their teams. Work requests, applicant screenings, and webinar registrations are just a few more examples of online forms in the workplace — a unique piece of communication technology.
Jotform’s intuitive drag-and-drop editor allows users to create custom online forms in moments. A large and growing library of form templates — more than 10,000 and counting — makes it even easier to collect mission-critical data from audiences of virtually any size.
Each of these examples shows how technology has changed workplace communication. Put together, they add up to the possibility of a fully remote workforce — a possibility that’s becoming reality for an increasing number of workers.