Old habits die hard. As some managers mandate a return to the office, empowered employees — invigorated by the proven performance of remote working — are pushing back and demanding flexibility. If companies demand in-person attendance, they must make flexible working equally viable.
But such flexibility is resulting in people becoming overwhelmed — in their personal and work lives. We’ve got access to everything we need, all the time from the comfort of our living rooms. It’s connectivity for connectivity’s sake. We’re digitally joined up with more people than we’ll ever interact with, never mind talk to.
The result? Global organizations are struggling to streamline their communications, to overcome the noise and chatter this hyperconnectivity has caused. Now they’re in full retreat — cutting back on their channels to aid budget and save attention spans.
We, on the other hand, don’t know where to prioritize our time and energy. That can make joining a network, for business or leisure, a hard sell. The risk is that avoiding networks could mean siloes, isolation and a lack of creative collaboration. People don’t join companies for a solid social life.
So What Makes Us Happy?
If a person is overstretched or time poor, they can find it hard to focus. Opposingly, when something is scarce, we fixate on it. That’s the theory Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Eldar Sharif stand behind. Having abundance and a dearth of time can have the same impact: an inability to focus on anything else.
When that happens, community members shrink into their smaller areas of familiarity. When you’re not directly affected by the war in Ukraine, it might fall off your radar, despite its significance. We unfriend, we mute and block opposing viewpoints and shut out the background noise to try and preserve some of our scarce attention for matters that demand it.
The solution? While Facebook shrinks and advertisers leave X (formerly Twitter), people still need a place where they can be wholly and unashamedly themselves — no matter how overwhelmed they feel.
The Future Forecast
Platforms need to serve our niche needs. Though the likes of Facebook, Yammer and X look to enable many-to-many communications, users are demanding more tailored communities. It’s an impact being felt by tech giants like Meta, who — despite an eye-watering $36 billion investment in its Metaverse — isn’t so certain when it comes to the evolution of social connection.
More digital platforms will perish and their replacements will be increasingly niche. Take the likes of BeReal, Supernova and Substack: they’re purpose-driven communities that offer something different, rather than an ability to shout into a void. It’s why purpose-led groups on the likes of Teams and Reddit flourish, while broadcast platforms are beginning to stagnate.
That’s the keyword: purpose. If a purposeful platform doesn’t exist, colleagues will create one. The challenge for communication professionals is directing the right amount of governance and resources to the right platforms. If a company is big enough to use Teams for task-orientated requests, but Yammer to celebrate big wins, which takes priority?
Ultimately, what we look for in community at work has shifted over the last few years. It’s no longer the primary source of a community that it used to be to many of us. But that also means many of us aren’t forming the same close connections that we did when face-to-face with colleagues, either.
While we’re capable of working from anywhere, we also need borderless communities of interest to make it meaningful. By unearthing colleague passions — be it sharing favorite rambling routes, TV recommendations or some savvy photography — it’s possible to break down geographical barriers and nurture watercooler conversation virtually.
With a compelling voice and broad knowledge of digital technologies, Tony Stewart — head of digital at scarlettabbott — brings unrivaled passion to his work in the employee engagement space. Weaving together his expertise in collaboration, community and communication, Tony joins the digital dots to find solutions that solve internal communications challenges for major brands across the globe. From apps to chatbots, and social media platforms to enterprise social networks, Tony has a gift for surfacing and translating business benefits through a deep understanding of both message and medium.