In today’s post-pandemic knowledge-based economy, communication is still key. Remote and hybrid teams are now a norm. The physical separation means that the impact of poor communication is more devastating on knowledge workers than before, leading to sub-optimal productivity, muted innovation, and reputational erosion. According to a research report from Grammarly and The Harris Poll, companies lose an estimated $12,000 per employee per year due to poor communication. Information chaos has a real and measurable impact on businesses. It’s hard to recognize the presence of this issue, but there is a tell-tale sign that you’ve probably experienced.
Often, when an employee finishes expressing their point or idea they will ask “am I making sense?” When this happens consistently, it’s a sign that employees are thinking on the spot. It’s a symptom of dangerously high-cost information flow. Bad communication can lead to a decrease in productivity in several ways. First, it creates the need for repetitive verbal updates to disseminate information and ideas (too many meetings). Second, it pushes important information into ephemeral and imprecise mediums like unorganized conversations where people bring up the same issues in various settings (unorganized meetings). Finally, it generates unclear messaging that leads to teams being misaligned (and more time is required to resolve coordination issues). This isn’t simply the cost of doing business, it’s the cost of not embracing great, thoughtful writing.
With that statement, your eyes are either rolling or your eyebrows are raised. There are lots of traditional internet suggestions for why and how to move toward embracing business writing that will improve an organization’s information flow. You’ve often heard that clear writing means clear thinking (this moves that reactive thinking we see in meetings to proactive problem solving). You’ve heard that your writing should be direct and concise, avoiding jargon and big confusing words. Additionally, someone has told you before that it is important to read what is written, putting oneself in the shoes of the reader. Those are beautiful pre-2023 recommendations. Modern AI gives us new ones.
There is a valid reason for employees to do their thinking on the spot; engaging in an interactive exchange of ideas within a conversation helps to reinforce ideas in one’s mind and challenge and expand upon one’s own thoughts and beliefs. With limited exceptions, this only happens in meetings. A ‘Tony Stark & JARVIS’ like experience wasn’t possible before, but now we can write, talk, and iterate on our ideas and problems before scheduling time with people. When people come in prepared with their own thoughts, magic occurs. What would you try in exchange for a calendar of high engagement meetings.
It is important to be aware of the potential risks of relying too heavily on technology for communication. ChatGPT and LLMs are very exciting technologies right now. However, there is a risk that technology will optimize for the quantity of information produced rather than the quality of information, leading to an overwhelming amount of text and images. There will inevitably be unintended consequences created by algorithmic text expansion and compression as we grow with these technologies (see image below). This will make it difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise. It also makes it even more important for knowledge work teams to generate high-quality thinking and writing using a multimodal approach.
The time is now to recognize that great team communication is a competitive advantage. The tools and technology to enable multimodal writing are emerging quickly. Oftentimes, things are fine and they seem good. Only when you discover something dramatically better do you recognize the immense friction you lived with before. After LLMs enable everyone, knowledge work will never be the same again.