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Giving everyone a voice

How technology can ensure we are all seen—and heard

Giving everyone a voice
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A couple of weeks ago, I attended a local government meeting to address the worsening problem of shoreline erosion that is impacting my local community. I’ve been to many of these public sessions before; invariably they’re dominated—or even derailed—by someone who makes a long and involved argument that escalates into raised voices and hard feelings.

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But this one was different, and it had everything to do with the pandemic. Due to distancing rules, the meeting was held via Zoom, during which the “attendees” first listened to the municipal officials run through their solutions, followed by the responses of community members.

Two things struck me right away: One, a lot more people attended, which is positive. And second, there was no shouting or heckling because we all had to wait for our turn to speak. The participants all made their points, and the discussion proceeded in an orderly way, with far more emphasis on sharing information and finding solutions than in exchanging verbal blows. It made for a refreshing change.

CHANGING DYNAMICS

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Recently, I’ve found myself pondering how group dynamics have been impacted as we shift to engage with one another via the video-conferencing sessions that have replaced meetings, casual office interactions, seminars or classes, and appointments.

I can only imagine the challenges facing teachers or healthcare professionals who have to revisit everything they’d ever learned about classroom management techniques or bedside manner. But in a business setting, I believe we are adapting rapidly, constructively, and finding new ways for everyone to be seen and heard—much like my friends and neighbors did at that local government meeting.

As CMO of OpenText, much of my role is to ensure that my colleagues and team members feel heard and are encouraged to contribute to and participate in our collective success. I truly feel that that responsibility means seeing—as well as hearing—one another. After all, 90% of a person’s feedback is nonverbal. Consciously or subliminally, we take note of body language, facial expressions, intonation, or, for example, whether someone’s pupils are dilating to indicate interest in what we’re saying.

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As a global technology company, we’re used to technology being the de facto means of communication, but I still insist we have cameras turned on as it gives meetings much more meaning.

As we move through this monumental period in our history, it seems we’re learning new ways to listen, to see, and to engage the people with whom we work. This shift has meant finding fresh ways to communicate with coworkers, customers, and partners. At the same time, we are discovering new techniques for problem solving and collaboration, even eliminating the unwanted features of meetings and “group-think.”

A REAL-TIME SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

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Technology—and the data and information that underpins it—empowers us to better focus on the task at hand and create a more informed and systematic platform for discussion. Meeting leaders can ensure everyone has a chance to speak. Content-management embedded in the tools means everyone has access to the most relevant information, and a seamless way to share, collaborate securely, and record important documents that result from the collaboration.

This is not to suggest that the sharp reduction in face-to-face human contact has been easy. We’re a social species, after all. Yet, over the past six months, we have discovered new and innovative ways to communicate, collaborate, and work.

In so many domains, the pandemic feels like a sprawling social experiment—a shock that is forcing us to do many things differently that we long took for granted. It has forced us to rethink what’s important, to rethink how we can maintain social and work relationships, and to fundamentally reimagine what the future will look like and the speed of getting there.

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It’s probably too soon to identify the long-term impacts of this highly decentralized model of work. But from my perspective I know that, as humans, we are uniquely capable of adaption and innovation.

Having access to the technology, the information and the people will empower us to rethink our place in the world. If the global COVID-19 pandemic means we’re collectively learning, waiting our turn to speak, and listening more attentively to our customers and colleagues, it seems clear we’ll be better off—not just for the duration of the pandemic, but afterwards as well. We will thrive!

The author is the SVP & CMO of OpenText.