The death of oral exchanges in the workplace ?

Résumé :some people are more comfortable with oral exchanges, some others with written ones. Similarly, some companies have a culture that’s more “latin” than others. Before even thinking of changing the way people work we have to admit that some of the tools that have to support these new ways of working do not fit a part of the workforce and even many companys for which switching from oral to written  is vert hard. Does it mean that enterprise 2.0 is doomed to failure ? Will the upcoming evolution happen to detriment of oral culture cimpanies ? No, because tools are getting more oral themselves. But a question remains : will tools evolve before many people give up ?

Do you prefer oral or written communication ? And your enterprise ? We all have our own preferences, each company has its culture and an efficient work requires to find the right balance between staff preferences and the corporate culture.

This is not trivial at all. Imagine two people having to work together, who have a very good relationship together, if one is more “oral” and the other more “written’ it may cause many issues and misunderstandings in their everyday work. Imagine a high level executive who joins a new company, if he’s “oral” in a very formal organization or very formal in an oral culture company, things will be very difficult.

That clearly impacts the capacity any organization has to change the way it works, to embark on social media. What, seen from a different standpoint, could be turned into : “will enterprise 2.0 kill oral cultures ?”.

Traditionnally, organizations favor written things. More reliable, more “engaging” while words only engage those who hear them, easier to track and to be used as an evidence the day someone has to find what has gone wrong and why. But there are also organizations where people prefer to talk together rather than write, where the direct human contact is prefered. The Chief HR Officer of a company of this kind once used the word “latin” to describe their culture when we were discussing this kind of issue together. That’s the same for people, each have their prefered way of communicating.

The fact is that writing is the enteprise 2.0 tool’s favorite way of communicating. It’s easy to understand why.

– keyboarding is still the by default way of entering information into any system. The success of Youtube must not mislead us : most of the videos that are shared aim at showing something more than delivering a personal message and people are seldom exposing themselves on their videos.

– text is searchable, can be indexed by a search engine. We still don’t know how to capitalize on oral things…except by writing them down.

– it’s possible to skim through a text and get the key messages while we have to watch a whole video to know what’s worth in. Sometimes we don’t have 10 minutes to watch a video or listen to a podcast but, when its transcription is available, I can quickly read it and know what it’s about, even if I come to the conclusion I have come back to it later.

– text allows asynchronous conversations, oral does not. (If fact it’s only half-true).

– not every computer in corporate offices has a webcam…in most of time the infrastructure is so slow….

To make it short, people who like oral communication are usually not comfortable with the new tools we try to make them use and I would not be surprise to learn that the reason why many refuse to change the way they work is mainly because they don’t like to write. By the way, that’s quite funny to see that this unstructured kind of written communication that’s often said being “informal” compared to other written things is even too formal for oral people.

Must we come to the conclusion that some people won’t be allowed in the next evolutions boat ? Or that these evolutions won’t happen because they are counter-natural for too many people ? That many organizations will loose their “latinity” (by the way…why do you think adoption seems to be much harder in latin and south-european countries..?)

Yes…and no.

No, because things are improving ?

– something tells me that with CISCO coming on the E20 battlefielsd there will be a pressure on a wise and efficient use of video.

– Microblogging seems to be a good substitute for oral. It’s, in fact “the oral of those who write”.

– we already saw on the web something very interesting with Seesmic Video. This promising tool that haven’t become mainstream yet has everything to be an enterprise killer application because it allows to have asynchronous video conversations in the easiest possible way.

Yes, because it will take a lot of time for technology to become mature and mainstream and, for infrastructure to be able to handle a lot of video contents, for search engines to index such contents…

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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