Why New Communication Patterns are Key to the Future of Work

In my last post, I talked about the future of work, something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Specifically, I focused on the importance of re-skilling and continuous learning. Lately, though, I have been thinking about communication patterns as another key aspect that enterprises must change as they embrace digitization.

How we communicate both in and out of the workplace has significantly changed over the past decade. Many articles have been written about the mobile revolution, so I won’t linger on it here. Instead, what I’m interested in is how new modes of communication help companies become more agile, responsive, and transparent.

For organizations that want to be innovative, what’s going to be important is developing new communication patterns — not just across your teams, but also with your customers.

Breaking old habits

Much of the difficulty in changing your organization’s culture is figuring out the right communication flow and pattern. Patterns that will serve you today, but also get you to where you need to be in the future. This is crucial for every organization because it’s impossible to develop (great) new products and services in isolation. You have to know 1) what’s going in your industry, 2) your company, and 3) the minds of your customer.

Companies, both new and old, get into an established flow and work pattern that can be hard to change. Often teams get stuck in unintentional silos, not efficiently receiving the information they need, and not effectively passing along the feedback that would be beneficial for another team. You might have teams that have worked in the same office alongside each other for years that don’t talk to each other.

Modern application development requires getting feedback regularly and having patterns in place where that data flows openly to the teams that need it in order to iterate on the application — changing and evolving the application over time to meet the changing needs of your customers. Likewise, communications across an organization need to have a fluidity so people across different teams have access to the most relevant and up-to-date information.

While this may sound obvious, implementing new communication patterns is one of the highest hurdles companies face.

Transparency and speed

We expect responses now in real time. This level of customer service and engagement is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s an imperative (table stakes, if you will). It wasn’t that long ago that a week wasn’t a big deal to get the support you needed, whether it be a technical issue or about a product or service. Now if you reach out to a company, you expect a response within less than an hour, if not immediately. And it’s common for people to use Twitter to publicly poke a company into action over an issue.

As technology has sped up and become more sophisticated so have our expectations of what companies can offer us as customers. In similar fashion, our expectations around the technology have advanced as well.

Those of us who’ve been using mobile apps for years now expect a level of personalization and transparency for all the companies we interact with. The way apps are built, with visibility into metrics and data and analysis, have changed how we think about information and what it can do for us. We’ve become accustomed to having access to all the data, no matter what platform. When that visibility is not there, we perceive that as a gap in the product/offering. Personally, I moved to a new bank, one that was digitally native, because the mobile experience was so much better than my previous bank.

When you’re developing (and iterating) mobile apps, your customer usage patterns, feedback, and engagement are key to the success of the software. Continuous development, responsiveness, and speed should all be top of mind. And at the center of all of this is communication.

Innovation as a communication pattern

As I noted in my last piece, new skills and new technology will develop side-by-side. Similarly, the innovation cycle requires not only developer skills but communication patterns that drive the creative process.

If you’re developing your own software, a crucial strategy to product iterations is to open the feedback channels — to your internal teams and your customers — and to tighten your feedback loops.

For example, when you create a mobile app, you don’t just update it once a year. You update monthly, perhaps even more often than that. But how do you know what to update? How do you know what features your users like and dislike? You need feedback from your users, and you need a feedback loop that allows you to gather that information, and then act on it, iteratively.

For large, monolithic applications, this can be especially difficult because they often require feedback from a breadth of users. And these types of applications are large and complex, requiring several teams and integrations that take time. Meaning that new features and functionality can take months (if not years) to get from feedback to production.

For most enterprises this is the process you are accustomed to. This is the pattern of work that has evolved over time. But, if you are trying to become a more agile company. A company that is responsive to customer feedback, and are using software to optimize your business, then you need new patterns.

If your mobile app team doesn’t know how the mobile app is being used, and what your customers like and dislike because that feedback is happening through a different group, then you have a problem. That’s why it’s crucial to build new communication patterns across organizations, so the communication flows vertically and horizontally.

. . . it’s the culture change that’s hard

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal really resonated with me, especially this quote from Jessica Knight of Gartner, “Empower employees to translate the culture, don’t do it for them”.

This is all much easier said than done. That’s why I often say the technology is the easy part, it’s the culture change that’s hard. However, I think that the opportunity this change offers enterprises is exciting, and the upside is unlimited. Many of you are just beginning your journey. Enterprises will continue to figure out new best practices — both through success and failure. Each new step brings the future of work into sharper focus.

CTO @ Puppet. Passionate about good food and all things tech. Always learning.

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