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Communicating in the new normal

By Caroline Walsh, Director of Solent Business School at Solent University, Southampton

We are all aware of the recent surge in businesses and organisations relying on new and more varied platforms to continue to communicate, both internally and externally, of late.

Solent University, Southampton itself has utilised tactics such as virtual events, and social media group pages and takeovers to support with students’ learning and development remotely. Whist other businesses that I have worked with, such as Norfolk Painting School Live, have adapted their business models to embrace new technologies and remain accessible to customers when face-to-face interactions haven’t been possible.

But, as restrictions continue to lift and places reopen, is this new way of communicating sustainable?

Unlike last year, when everyone was online at home or in the office, we no longer know where each other are. We’re not always at home or in the office or even all online anymore – there are in between places and hybrid states. This poses a challenge for businesses to consider how they can include everyone when some people are online and some people are in person.

People have also missed the opportunity to mentor and coach and be alongside somebody – not forgetting the social and creative aspects of being together. This is especially true for new and younger members of staff. One solution is to continue to invest in technology, so the people who are not in the room don’t feel like an afterthought. However, there is a balance for businesses to strike here as, whilst technology can provide a more cost-effective way of communicating and running events, it isn’t resource free. It takes time as well as money and contributes to carbon emissions.

We have all become more informal as a result of using more varied platforms to communicate with each other (and it starts with cats and children invading the screens and then becoming the highlight!). Email still feels more formal, however, and we still tend to use ‘Kind Regards’ rather than leap into a conversation. Businesses and organisations need to gauge their relationships with their staff and customers and choose what feels right for them.

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Over the last few years, there has also been overcommunication. Will businesses be able to keep up with this in the new normal and will staff and customers even want this? As people are starting to get more actively out there and travelling, they are consequently less available to read and respond. So we will need to dial this down because that immediacy of response we were able to give each other when we were always at the end of the line either at home or at work is not realistic moving forward.

I anticipate that businesses will find exciting blended and hybrid ways forward, using technology and AI to improve efficiency and drive results, alongside in-person interactions where it adds benefit. However, communications strategies continue to evolve in the ‘new normal’ and successful communication should be an exchange. If you’re a comedian, you don’t just tell someone you’re funny. You say / do something funny, and they laugh and tell you you’re a comedian!

A successful strategy depends on the intentions of communication and the outcomes. Did your communication give you the result(s) you wanted? It’s always important to understand who you are communicating with. With our students at Solent University Southampton, for example, we need to understand where they’re at in their learning journey in order to communicate in a way that speaks to their needs, likes and pain points.

Smaller businesses tend to know their existing customers really well, but as Byron Sharp and numerous experts have stated, all businesses need to be reaching out to new customers to continue to grow. Alongside other Small Business Charter holder University Business Schools, Solent Business School is  supporting business growth by delivering the Government-funded Help to Grow Management programme, aimed at supporting SME growth and starting in October.

You also always have to be looking and thinking about where you can reach new people, how you can reach new people and how you stay relevant. How you and your key stakeholders communicate and exchange between each other and with you, in meaningful ways online and offline will continue to develop. It will vary depending on your business, your brand, your customers and all the parties involved. Communication is a mutual practice and process. We need to listen and observe as much as we talk and act, whatever the medium channel or platform. I, for one, am looking forward to new ways of engaging and also to the simple joy of being together again – no words necessary!

About the author:

Caroline is a marketing and management consultant, and Director of Solent Business School at Solent University, Southampton. She plays a crucial role in developing the University’s business curriculum and fostering close relationships between sectors across the Central South and South East Region.

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