Let the light shine in

A recent survey of office workers across South Africa has revealed the top five things people want from their office space.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that the survey was carried out late last year and queried just over 3000 office workers on what mattered to them most in the workplace.

“Unsurprisingly 42% said more natural light was the the most important element.

“It so simple but often design gets so caught up in the fancier things, people forget the importance of sunlight to humans’ sense of well-being.

“This is especially true in the workplace, where traditionally there has been a focus on issues of layout and safety – important factors, but not the only elements affecting happiness at work.”

Second on the list was ‘quiet working spaces’ at 22% and in third ‘was a view of the sea’ at 20%.

“Increasingly we are installing quiet zones for our big clients. People need to escape from what is often a noisy and disruptive environment to really get work done.

“A typical office work switches activities about every three minutes and half of these switches were caused by interruptions. Interrupted work is usually resumed however it takes workers about 20 minutes to get back to what they were doing.”

She adds that views of the sea were a nice to have but not practical for inland cities. “We have found however that placing large pictures of peaceful natural places like forests, mountains or the sea does create a calming atmosphere in the office.”

Rounding out the list was ‘live indoor plants’ at 18% and ‘bright colours’ at 15%.

“The recent trend to create clinical uncluttered offices doesn’t make people more productive or help them concentrate better.”

Trim noted that a green office signals to employees that their employer cares about their well-being.

“Adding live plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.”

Another factor that made offices better places to work was the right use of colour.

“Bland colours induce feelings of sadness and depression while grey and white can also contribute to feelings of gloom and anxiety.

“Scientific studies have shown that colours don’t just change our moods, they also profoundly impact productivity.

“That’s why it’s best to decorate your workplace with a vibrant mix of stimulating hues that increase output and spark creativity,“ Trim says.

How space affects learning

South Africa faces a particularly challenging teaching environment with often overcrowded classrooms, distracted learners and hard working but sometimes under-qualified teachers.

And another, more subtle challenge is that traditional teaching classroom experiences are often not aligned with how the brain works, particularly as it relates to attention.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that learning institutions in South Africa can achieve far better results by better understanding how learning works.

“There are so many things vying for student attention today it makes it harder to get attention and therefore engagement but there are five things that can be done to dramatically improve results:

Seat location impacts attention

A study by Kennesaw State University revealed that where students sit in the classroom impacts focus. Says Andrews: “Students in the front and middle of the classroom stayed on task, while those in the back were more distracted. An active learning classroom where students easily moved and rearrange their seating enables them to stay attentive.”

Classrooms configured with no fixed position where the instructor must stand and mobile seating create better results. Here an teacher or student can address the class, lead a discussion and share content from anywhere in the classroom. There’s no front or back of the classroom, and since the seating allows students to change posture and position easily, every seat is the best seat in the room.

Active learning

Research by Diane M. Bunce, et. al. on “How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class?”, compared a passive lecture approach and active learning methods. Researchers noted fewer attention lapses during times of active learning. They also found fewer lapses in attention during a lecture that immediately followed a demonstration or after a question was asked, compared to lectures that preceded active learning methods. This suggests active learning may have dual benefits: engaging student attention and refreshing attention immediately afterward.

Physical movement fuels the brain

Schools are starting to incorporate more physical activity in the classroom, such as Delaney Connective, a high school in Sydney, Australia, where students do “brain pushups” each morning: five-minute, Tai Chi-like exercises that get the blood flowing and help students focus.
“Physical movement increases alertness and helps encode and trigger memory. Yet schools and teachers traditionally train students to be sedentary, and equate sitting still with greater attention and focus,” noted Andrews.
Simply allowing students to get out of their seats to move while learning provides the brain with much-needed novelty and change.

Novelty and change get attention

Our brains naturally seek out what’s new and different. Therefore varying materials and breaks facilitate attention. A study by Kennesaw State University found that students paid more attention when the professor reviewed quiz answers, presented new information or shared videos, essentially by changing things up.
Novelty and change facilitate learning in another way too. Repeating important points by engaging multiple senses helps to reinforce learning. There is a greater likelihood that learning will generalise outside the classroom if it is organised across sensory, physical, emotional and cognitive networks.

Learning has a natural rhythm

The need for periods of both quiet focus and healthy distraction finds its parallel in learning.
Our brain can focus on a task for only so long, after which it needs a break for renewal to achieve high performance on the next task. Ignore this rhythm and we tend to lose focus.
“Researchers have found that people who respect this natural rhythm are more productive,” says Andrews. Breaks for rest and renewal are critical to the body and brain, as well as to attention span. The work of education is similarly organic, changing at different times of the term, week, even during a single class period.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t just about diets, marathons or finally growing that vegetable garden you promised you’d start last year – they’re pertinent for business too. In the same way New Year’s resolutions help you focus on personal goals for the coming year, so can they improve productivity in the office – no matter what your business. Here are resolutions you can make to thrive professionally in the year ahead:

Write a growth plan
The first step in ramping up your business and career goals is putting a plan in place. Research shows there’s substantial benefit in having a formal, written strategy for growth, as opposed to pie-in-the-sky hopes for development. If you have one already, now’s the time to do a quick review and consider updates where necessary.

The goals should be achievable, like improving office communication, meeting deadlines or acquiring new skills. Unrealistic ideas will only lead to frustration rather than improvement. Once you’ve formalised your plan, share it with key staff members and get their buy-in before the year kicks off.

Get organised
Success is in the small things as much as the macro goals. Tasks like organising office space, computers or the server are essential before heading into the year. De-clutter your inbox and organise files into designated folders on your computer – then encourage all office members to do the same. Remove unnecessary clutter around your desk, store what you still need and throw away what’s not being used.

Having a clean workspace – physically and electronically – will help you start the year with a clear, stress-free mind. Allocate time for an office clean-up and make de-cluttering a fun activity – with an incentive at the end, like pizza for lunch. Organise stock rooms and shuffle the floor plan if necessary.

Communicate with staff members to get their input on logistical office-related issues – then workshop some solutions. Consider automating processes, such as workflows, to make the office more organised and decrease paperwork.

Improve well-being
Employees and managers should realise looking after themselves (and their teams) is as important as the time put into work. If you’ve been struggling to establish a work-life balance culture in the office, now’s the time to reset.

Encourage employees to free up time to recharge by working smarter, not harder when in the office. Consider introducing ‘power hour’ to kick-start productivity (slots of time when employees can’t disturb one another). If personal well-being isn’t managed, it impacts on performance and effectiveness.

Schedule health checks with each staff member in the first few weeks of the New Year. It’ll give you a good idea of what needs to be adjusted going forward.

Embrace new trends
New technology emerges every year in vast quantities. Rather than trying to embrace every new trend, success can be found in honing in on one area in which you want to up-skill or improve – then seeking out tech and software to enhance it.

There’s huge benefit in embracing new and adaptive technology and leveraging it so it works for your business. You might be keen to improve communication within the team and could explore messaging software or tools to streamline project management. If your business needs it, it’s probably out there.

Introduce training and development
In the New Year, prioritise personal development. In reviewing your own goals and the goals of your team, evaluate skills and set-up training sessions within the organisation. Pair employees up with mentors to help them grow and pursue new career opportunities. Encourage team members to send out calendar invites for mentoring sessions ahead of time and, where possible, stick to them religiously.

To help keep your New Year’s resolutions, make sure you have an actionable plan with defined goals and a process for monitoring progress. Just like the vegetable garden you want to start, businesses take time, investment and nurturing to grow. So plant new seeds in the New Year – then watch business flourish in 2017.

Office trends for 2017

The workplace is changing rapidly, with businesses focusing on the war for talent, creating a more satisfactory employment experience for workers and adapting to changing demands of new technology and new generations of workers, like millennials.

In line with these changes, Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, has identified five major office design trends she believes will come to the fore in offices across South Africa in 2017.

1. Being much closer to mother nature

Bringing the outdoors inside is an office design trend that won’t be going anywhere soon and its one that coincides with productive well-being. With office workers spending around eight hours a day inside, we can see the benefits of bringing more natural elements into the workplace. Said Trim: “Living Walls for example create an element of nature that also helps with air purity, and perhaps even lunch, if you incorporate plants for eating such as lettuces.”

2. Time to collaborate – better and faster

“When it comes to collaboration and team meetings, diversity is key…not just among the company, but among the collaborative furniture options available,” noted Trim. If you have small meetings of two to six people, you can easily implement an acoustic furniture pod in the middle of your open office. Many commercial workspaces are finding a way to blend acoustic seating and collaborative furniture while simulating the relaxed atmosphere of an employee lounge. “This encourages people to get away from the formal conference table in favour of comfortable chairs and intimate surroundings,” said Trim.

3. Integrated technology

Workspaces that integrate with technology is a logical design trend that is on the rise. “We can expect to see wireless charging of devices become commonplace soon. And they are likely to be embraced quickly in the workplace if Apple supports the feature on the next iPhone which many analysts are expecting,” added Trim.

Office furniture with built in power adapters and multimedia capabilities will be seen in well designed and flexible work environments this year. It also helps offices to ‘future proof’ because technology use will only increase in the years ahead.

4. Future-proof design

Part of designing flexible layouts is the need for furniture that will adapt to new and changing requirements. Modular soft seating, modular workbenches, desk pods, meet point tables, collaborative and breakout furniture, and acoustic elements – are examples of smart office furniture choices to support a well designed, high functioning and adaptable workplace that will move efficiently into the future.

5. Design for productive well being

Said Trim: “Productive well-being is an aspect of workplace design that has been heavily embraced by architects and designers of late. With the health and well-being of employees being central to design, we see a positive impact on health, happiness, and productivity in the workplace.” And with this comes less staff turnover and decreased employee costs overall. “Things like sit-stand desks areas for both collaboration and privacy, comfort, airflow, lighting, indoor plant life, accommodating healthy lifestyle options like starting later in the day or gym memberships – all increase the productive well-being of your staff,” Trim concluded.

The way you dress says a lot about you – especially in the workplace. Dress codes differ across sectors (that’s a reality), but the general rule is: at work, keep it professional.

The way we dress at work not only affects how others perceive us, but affects the way we feel. Research shows the way you dress can significantly increase your confidence which results in increased productivity – what psychologists call ‘enclothed cognition’. Even if you’re not into fashion, it’s something to consider.

Research also suggests it takes just seven seconds to make a first impression. Fashion missteps can create misconceptions about your skills or how seriously you take your job. If your wardrobe is holding you back, it might be time to revamp this year. Here’s why:

What not to wear
Company dress codes are a good guide as to how to dress in the workplace. Informal attire in a corporate can suggest you value comfort over anything else and send the message you’re in cruise-mode. Casual attire might be well-received in certain workspaces, if everyone is on the same page. It’s about knowing what the boundaries are, so you don’t overstep them.

When you join a company, ask management or HR for guidelines on the general dress code and use them as a starting point. If you’ve been with the company for a while, it’s never too late to start over and it’s worth asking what the dress code in the office actually is, to find out if you’re on track.

The new formal
Workplace research shows more offices are moving towards ‘business casual’ in place of suits, but often the rules aren’t clearly defined. Even experienced professionals sometimes have trouble deciding what’s appropriate. If there are grey areas (or the dress code seems to be shifting), chat to colleagues or management to get a more definite idea of what’s appropriate, before going full tracksuit-and-trainers.

No end to the ’80s
Vintage styles are having a revival, but it’s wise to mix old-school trends with modern clothes. Dressing like it’s still the 1980s can give the impression you’re out of touch and find it difficult to embrace change. If you’re into vintage, mix it up with classic pieces to keep it professional.

Work wardrobe goals
It may be tempting to don a different look for each day of the week but it’s not always sustainable. In fact, Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg swears by t-shirts and jeans every day to eliminate unnecessary decisions and implement routine. Although a ‘one-look-every-day’ approach is a bit extreme, there’s value in simplicity.

A minimalistic wardrobe is about quality over quantity. Stick to fewer quality items that last longer and look more professional. A capsule wardrobe will save you infinite time deciding what to wear in the mornings – and you have less chance of committing a serious office-wear faux pas.

The right fit
Believe it or not, psychologists say poorly fitting clothes give the impression the wearer is unrealistic about their abilities. If clothes are too small, it suggests the wearer is lacks confidence. Oversized clothes allude to the fact that the wearer is trying to hide from the spotlight. Buy clothes that fit. And if your weight fluctuates – adjust accordingly.

Start the New Year with an objective assessment of the message you’re sending to colleagues. You want to be known for the things you say and do, not your outfit malfunction.

Happy workers mean more revenue

Is a company a great place to work because it is wealthy, or is it wealthy because it is a great place to work? Ron Friedman has gathered a vast array of quality research to answer this question. As you work your way through this exceptionally valuable book, the answer will become increasingly clear and compelling.

Fortune magazine has ranked Google the world’s best place to work 7 times in 10 years. Employees can have massages, haircuts, foreign language courses, doctor’s appointments and more, all on the campus and free of charge.

More instructive is Wegmans, a US grocery chain that has been high on the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list for the past 14 years. During this period, annual sales have nearly tripled! Whereas many retailers try growing by squeezing labour costs, Wegmans did the opposite: they invested more in their people.

The conclusion Friedman has drawn from wide research is that “the more invested and enthusiastic people are about their work, the more successful their organization is on a variety of metrics”. Happy employees are more productive, more creative, provide better client service, and are less likely to call in sick. They also act as brand ambassadors outside the office.

Focusing on workplace happiness doesn’t cost the company money in the long run, and ensures revenues will grow. Those on the Best Companies to Work For list outperform the market as a whole, by a factor of 2 to 1.
Friedman demonstrates across the 11 chapters of this book that very little wealth is required. All of the advantages can be achieved by any company, irrespective of the staff or balance sheet size.

Failure is the only reliable path to success
In a chapter entitled “Success Is Overrated – Why Great Workplaces Reward Failure”, Friedman shows that accepting failure is not only a way of making it easier for employees to be risk-takers, but often proves to be the only reliable path to success.
Shakespeare, Beethoven and da Vinci were all far more productive than their contemporaries. Their most interesting common denominator is the volume of attempts they made to produce great work. Thomas Edison’s hundreds of failures led to his successful invention of the lightbulb.

Prior to the huge successes of the iPhone and iPad, Steve Jobs racked up a remarkably long list of failures that includes the Apple I, the Apple II, the Lisa, the Newton personal digital assistant, and NeXT hardware. As Larry Page of Google points out, “Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely. That’s the thing that people don’t get.”

But failure alone won’t add to success unless the failure is interrogated for insights that can help the next attempt.
I was particularly intrigued by chapter five: “How to Turn a Group of Strangers into a Community”. Dr Donald Clifton, founder of the Gallup organisation, developed the Q12 survey to identify employee engagement.

One of the items measured is whether employees have workplace friendships – one of the strongest predictors of productivity. Employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused and more loyal to their organisations. They are sick less often, suffer fewer accidents, change jobs less frequently and have more satisfied customers.

In a variety of clinical studies, friends outperformed acquaintances. Friends were more committed at the start of a project, communicated better, and offered teammates positive encouragement. Acquaintances preferred to work alone and did not help others avoid mistakes. They engaged others only when absolutely necessary, and were less comfortable seeking help.

The reduction of staff churn is particularly important in contexts where there is a shortage of talent. If co-workers are friends, it is harder to leave. The opposite is also true.

Workplace friendships, however, do not have to be left to chance.

Fostering friendships at the workplace
What can organisations possibly do about employees’ friendships, since friendships are voluntary and people can’t be persuaded to become friends? There are three ingredients in building friendships and they are all surprisingly straightforward. All have been verified by research.
The first ingredient for friendship is physical proximity. Co-workers who work nearby increase the chances of forging friendships more than if they worked in different departments.

The second ingredient is familiarity. Psychologists call this the ‘mere exposure effect’ and argue that our minds are designed to distrust the unfamiliar. Studies show that the mere exposure effect doesn’t just affect our impressions of people: it also applies to paintings, songs and consumer products.

The third and strongest contributor to friendship is similarity. The writer C.S. Lewis once observed, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another,’‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one’.” Similarity is reaffirming. If I like what you like, your opinion validates mine and increases my self-liking.

Even if all the ingredients are present, friendships might still not blossom. Research by Art Aron shows that factual exchanges aren’t enough to create friendships. People need to reveal intimate information about themselves in a reciprocal fashion; both partners need to self-disclose. This self-disclosure needs to progress because without deeper revelations a relationship can stall.

Is mutual self-disclosure with co-workers really wise? Research conducted by Professor Patricia Sias suggests it is, at least if your goal is to make friends.

How can you tell if coworkers are friends? By the amount of time they spend discussing nonworkplace topics. When talk is only about work, you might develop a reputation for being competent, but you’re not likely to develop many friendships.

While we know a lot about the formation of friendships, we seem to apply very little of that knowledge to cultivating relationships in the workplace, despite their proven work value. “Surprisingly little thought is given to the way onboarding can contribute (or undermine) a sense of connection between team members.”

Most company introductions to newcomers consist of little more than being shown your workspace and going through the corporate equivalent of speed dating – back-to-back meetings with key people, at breakneck speed.
Intelligent onboarding must reflect the reality of the needs of employees as well as those of their companies, and must accomplish two major concerns: demonstrating competence and connecting with their colleagues.
Introducing new employees by more than just their professional background, such as their hobbies, their favourite entertainments or an unusual talent, is valuable. The Great Place to Work Institute’s Best Companies to Work For award in 2011 has made personal interests a key feature of their onboarding practices.

Providing a colourful introduction makes it easy for teammates to have nonworkplace topics to talk about the first time they meet, a short cut to possible workplace friendships.

There are so many superb insights and so much practical advice for anyone who recognises the value of creating a great place to work in this book. Such a place is unlikely to happen by chance. Friedman offers advice across too wide a range of issues to cover in this column. The book should be read by all HR professionals and managers with organisational responsibility.

By Ian Mann of Gateways

Anyone who has ever worked in an office will be familiar with nonsensical “corpspeak” – that meaningless business jargon that so favoured by those in meetings and widely used when people are trying to impress colleagues.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy, said for his Christmas Wish List there are certain phrases he hopes to never hear again in an office in 2017.

“It’s an odd phenomenon that when otherwise plain speaking people pass through the portals of the office, their language changes. It’s almost like they’re visiting another country where people speak a different language.”

Andrews has compiled his Top Ten Offices phrases he never wants to hear again:
1) Touch base offline – this means let’s meet later sometime. In yet another meeting
2) Blue sky thinking – aka limitless thinking or thinking as if all were possible
3) Stick a pin in it – to deal with something later
4) Throw it against a wall and see if it sticks – try something to see if it actually works because we have no idea if it will
5) Deep dive – really getting to the bottom of something
6) Ecosystem – borrowed from biology and very prevalent in tech talk meaning how different systems work together
7) Amplify – no, not a music phrase, it simply means to improve or increase
8) Thinking outside the box – thinking creatively or differently to how we’ve always done it
9) Drinking the Kool-aid – going along with a bad idea just because all your peers are
10) Singing from the same hymn sheet – a self explanatory Xmas themed one
Christmas Bonus Annoying Phrase: Connect – meet, chat, get in touch with. You know, connect.
“This kind of jargon is pointless, irritating and so often confusing. I’m sure it would be a paradigm shifter (get it?) if people just spoke simply and said what they mean. Here’s hoping.”

Resolve consumer complaints – fast

A total 3 495 cases of consumer complaints were opened at the Consumer Goods & Services Ombud (CGSO) between March 2015 – February 2016, with the top five complaints relating to cellphones (951), services (795), furniture (523) electrical appliances (343) and computer accessories (140).

It should be noted that the organisation also received a staggering 14 599 calls from disgruntled consumers during that same period. While not all consumer complaints do become a liability issue, it is important that all South African businesses understand the consumer protection framework and what types of complaints can progress into legal liability claims.

This is according to Simon Colman, executive head at SHA Specialist Underwriters, who says for many years in SA, consumers had no efficient way of pursuing recourse against businesses if they felt they had been treated unfairly.

“The court processes are complex, expensive and in the end do not really service the average ‘man in the street’ who is often without financial and legal resources. The implementation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) changed all this because this piece of legislation dictates how consumers must be treated with regards the supply of goods and services in SA.”

He says the Act serves a noble purpose, protecting consumers and also providing businesses with a blueprint to good customer service. “However, any piece of legislation is useless without good enforcement. The National Consumer Commission (NCC), the Tribunal and the various alternative dispute resolution forums are all set up to provide a levelled playing field between businesses and their customers.”

Colman explains that typically a consumer lodges a complaint initially with the retailer or supplier of product/service and the normal complaints handling process between the retailer and the consumers then takes its course.

“Most complaints are actually resolved at this level but those that are not are then referred either to the NCC or to a recognised industry body if one exists.”

“The NCC is a statutory body that is responsible for overall regulation of the consumer environment whilst the CGSO is a recognised alternative dispute resolution forum, empowered by the NCC to resolve disputes. Once the ombud has ruled on an issue at the CGSO, disgruntled consumers can still approach the NCC if they are unhappy with the outcome,” states Colman.

Not every industry subscribes to the CGSO as participation is voluntary and involves the payment of subscription fees, he says. “A business that is not a member will by default either fall under the NCC’s jurisdiction or under some other more specific industry body if one exists, for example the motor industry has its disputes heard by the Motor Industry Ombudsman.”

Looking at the disputes that went before the CGSO last year 43% were related to goods whilst 29% related to services and 21% to allegedly unfair agreements/contracts, he says. “Not all of these complaints would result in a liability claim under an insurance policy. A product liability insurance policy generally responds to third party claims after there has been some form of injury or damage caused by the product/service.

“Many of the complaints that are lodged at the various dispute forums relate to some kind of failure or defect in the product/service but do not necessarily cause any injury or damage. In those instances the consumer is often simply seeking a replacement or a refund and that would not generally be an insurable claim, especially not under a product liability insurance policy.”

He points to an example in the CGSO report where a lady alleged that a defect in sandals she bought caused her to fall and injure herself. “Due to the fact that there is an allegation of an injury being caused by a product that would be what we would call an indemnifiable (covered) event. If the supplier had a product liability policy in place and it was alleged that the sandals caused the injury, the defense costs and the damages may have been covered by insurance. Contrarily, if the consumer simply claimed for a new pair of sandals because the others were of poor quality and there was no injury or damage caused by the product supplied, that would not be a claim under the policy.”

The NCC and the various dispute resolution bodies that deal with these matters can assist in bringing about the resolution of a dispute but they do not ‘side’ with the consumer as this would be unfair, he says. “They do of course investigate the complaints to check if the consumer has grounds for protection under the CPA. Businesses that blatantly flout the law can face stiff penalties (up to 10% of their annual turnover) so it is in their interests to participate in the process and to comply with the requirements of the CPA.”

“The CGSO creates an easily accessible platform so that consumers can ‘have their say’ without having to incur the costly legal expenses associated with actually approaching the courts. The time taken to resolve a dispute is generally much shorter in the CGSO (57 days on average) than in the High Court where it can take over a year to get resolved,” Colman concludes.

The pitfalls of the office party

If it’s not on social media it hasn’t happened; a common belief among avid social-media users. But not every memorable experience deserves an Instagram video – especially if it is of you dancing on the table at your staff party, or taking on that infuriating colleague who has been working on your nerves all year.

Social media practitioners and labour lawyers warn that the embarrassment of being immortalised online could be just the beginning of your troubles as companies continue to test the parameters of labour law in relation to social-media use.

According to labour lawyer Terry Bell, employees would be liable for damages if they defamed their company in any way.

“And disciplinary action can be undertaken based on company rules,” said Bell.

Employees might see staff functions as an opportunity to let their hair down but they should remember that companies are not likely to forgive those who damage corporate reputations.

“At Christmas parties employees sometimes let more than their hair down and they should be very careful about what they put on social media,” said Bell.

Recruitment specialist Auguste Coetzer of Taleng Africa said the tone should to be set by companies.

Coetzer said companies should take stock and establish the objectives of the party and whether it should take place at all, adding that awards ceremonies might create division.

“If broad recognition of team success is crucial, the firm will avoid the mistake of combining the occasion with a prize-giving for exceptional performers. You can’t celebrate everyone and reward a few stellar achievers at the same event,” he said.

Coetzer said companies should not be afraid to warn employees about company policy on social media.

Head of corporate and experiential events at Event Affairs Megan Mcilrath said it was important to thank employees for a great year and not leave social media education to the eve of an event.

“It’s important that companies entrench a social-media and general behaviour policy so that at any stage employees know what is and what isn’t allowed regarding social media,” said Mcilrath.

Social-media consultant Sheena Kretzmer said companies and employees should be prepared for the fallout of staff parties in a social-media age in which live video blogging is the norm.

By Shenaaz Jamal for www.timeslive.co.za

ICT has progressed to a point where it makes no sense for businesses to use single or one-dimensional channels. Today, the advent of social networks, social media and other interactive platforms means that any sized business in any sector or industry can extend their reach to a wide audience immediately. Omni-channel communication has become the order of the day.

Omni-channel communication involves the use of several platforms, often simultaneously, including print, email, social, SMS and MMS.

Fred Steinberg, MD of Communication Genetics, a leading provider of customer communication solutions, believes that omni-channel communication makes sense because it offers so many more ways to engage the customer and these all promote interaction.

“This type of communication is directed at a wide base but can be personalised, so that individuals feel as if they’re the only ones being spoken to. It is a very effective means interaction and because these are all digital platforms, they are by default responsive. More businesses are beginning to tap into the potential that social platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter offer, realising the intrinsic value of channels that are pervasive, dynamic and powerful,” says Steinberg.

Despite some of the more traditional business environments, like banking and financial services, still struggling to get to grips with social media and applications, the truth is that any credible business today cannot ignore the benefits of the omni-channel approach,” says Steinberg.

One of the main advantages that most markets are now familiar with is that of being able to ‘brand’ this communication – in other words tailor this communication to reflect the business, keep it fresh in the minds of recipients and basically use it as a form of consistent, low-cost but always accessible advertising.

The reality is that to continue operating, sustain performance and indeed capture market share, businesses must embrace digital tools and leverage these channels to integrate processes and procedures that form part of their core business.

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