Throughout the evolution of the workplace, one constant has stayed the same: the necessity of effective communication. While this concept may seem simple, it’s one that can sometimes be overlooked. But make no mistake, if your workplace doesn’t stay true to form as a place that encourages an ongoing exchange of ideas, office productivity can suffer. If a business’ leadership, staff, and clients all stay on the same page, it becomes harder to become unseated by inefficiency.
Throughout time, workers are most commonly frustrated from either a lack of communication or an abundance. This makes finding new and better ways to stay in touch with one another a hot topic for many businesses. Want to know why we communicate the way we do in the office? History can provide some perspective and tips on communication within the workplace that withstand the test of time.
Mail (550 BC)
It’s hard to think of a business world without mail.
The first evidence of a mail system can be traced back to Ancient Persia, and is most commonly attributed to the Persian King Cyrus the Great sometime around 550 BC. In order to gather information more rapidly, a deal was struck with neighboring countries, and a network of roads was built to facilitate the sending and receiving of intelligence throughout a sizeable portion of Asia.
With a road system in place, messengers could travel long distances by traveling from one post to the next, where they could take a quick breather and trade in their horses for well rested ones to ensure maximum efficiency.
Today, our mail system works much like it did in ancient days, but rather than using it as an intelligence-gathering device for empires, its use has become more practical. Whether it’s through the sending or receiving of invoices or simply showing a message of support for troubling times, the mail system is an important aspect of business and life.
Think letter writing is out of date in today’s office? Think again. Keep your office in sync by writing hand written notes congratulating your office-mates on their achievements, or simply to let them know that you’re glad to have as a part of your team. Warm forms of communication like these can provide a nice touch of culture to your business and boost employee morale.
The Fax Machine (1846)
Believe it or not, the first patent for a Fax Machine (then called an “Electric Printing Telegraph”) was filed by Alexander Bain in 1843, nearly thirty years before the introduction of the first telephone. By using an electronic messaging system with a printing device, his machine would successfully reproduce pre-set graphics from one point to another.
While his design was rudimentary, and hardly resembles the device we use today, the need to communicate through print and pictures is an old idea that fulfills a common need. Present-day fax machines are slowly being phased out by online resources, but they maintain a place in our world by providing a secure line for important, sensitive documents that require our attention. For those times when you need secure communications between your office and another location, consider taking a refresher course on how to use the fax system so it does more than just sit in the corner of your office and take up space.
The Telephone (1876)
“Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you,” were the first words spoken through a telephone by Dr. Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Following this monumental achievement, the telephone became big business by providing an alternative to snail mail. Not long after cities and landscapes were wired, telephones began changing business itself. Imagine being able to talk with another region of your business without making a costly trip or sending an untimely letter!
Today, a lot of people still operate under the motto that “All business is done over the telephone.” And while some may challenge its effectiveness, many come to the realization that it offers a more personal touch that can’t be replicated though other forms of communication.
If you send an email to someone else you’re looking to get into business with, take the time to follow up with that person through a phone call. Oftentimes, having a conversation over the phone can be more timely and efficient than conversing through written correspondence, and can add a certain tone to your message that may have been missed by the person reading it.
The Videophone (1936)
Another case of a technological development coming before its time, the first videophone network was developed by German Company Gegensehn-Fernsprechanlagen in 1936. While their attempt eventually failed and later attempts by AT&T to revive the concept only received minimal attention, the idea was shelved until it was later resurrected with introduction of the smartphone.
Video messaging has largely been conceptualized as the telephone on steroids, and today there are plenty of avenues to leverage it within your own workplace. For instance, video conferencing over sensitive issues allows you the ability to use facial expressions and hand gestures in your communications with colleagues that aren’t physically present, adding another layer of depth to your message.
In a moment reminiscent of Bell’s call to Watson, the first email message sent by Raymond Tomlinson was likened to the frustrating mashing of a keyboard: “QWERTYUIOP”. Since its inception in 1971, and its growing popularity throughout the 1990’s, the internet and its e-mail counterpart revolutionized the way people stay connected with one another.
While the sheer volume of messages we can have waiting for us in our inbox can leave us with headaches now and again, everyone can agree that the business world would look a little different today if it weren’t for the introduction of e-mail. And in a lot of office environments, whether it’s a quick joke or light-hearted photo, the system provides employees with an easy way to connect and bond with one another. If it isn’t already allowed within your office, break the stigma of a gloomy office environment by sending your own humorous message to your employees, and show them that sometimes work can be a little fun!
Is your office ready for a time transporter? What communication advance do you think will arrive in offices next?