“Business communication” is a large category, covering a lot of different interactive activities, so let me narrow that question: What new kinds of communications — let’s call them genres — and what new sorts of communication skills do people need to be successful in business?
Some old basic writing skills and rhetorical principles still very much apply. “Know your audience” is basic business communication rhetoric, as is “Keep it short and to the point” (conciseness). But these principles apply in new ways for new contexts, and are resulting in some genres delivered through new kinds of media. So, another way to focus is to ask, How are social media changing how business people interact?
Full disclosure: I’m prepping to teach a new online course next Spring 2012, IMS/ENG 419/519, Interactive Business Communication, which will be both a graduate and undergraduate offering. I’ve been thinking about the kinds of questions, assignments, readings, interactions, genres, etc., that are most important to focus on in such a course. Maybe the best way to begin is to put the students to work researching this question?
This large question relates to speculations about the future of work and of work space/s: How are the nature and location of work changing? Everybody claims that the concept of “the office” as that cubicled space where people show up and punch in everyday — think of office movies like 9 to 5 (1980) and Office Space (1999) — is dead or dying. People can work online at home — and why not? And yet productive social interactions could be lost if people are isolated in their own private at-home work cubicles, even when they are interacting via online social media.
Some have speculated that we are moving toward a third-space model of work which is neither the F2F office nor the virtual at-home office, but a co-mingled space that includes participants from multiple businesses working alongside independents and freelancers. Coworking is one such third-space model, a kind of workspace that has taken off in recent years. “Coworking is the social gathering of a group of people, who are still working independently, but who share values and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with talented people in the same space” (“Coworking,” Wikipedia).
Check out the Berkeley Coworking space on Shattuck Avenue, or the New Work City coworking space on Broadway. (For other examples, see Clay Spinuzzi’s Profiles of Coworking Spaces and 10 Very Cool Working Spaces from Around the World.) The Digital Writing Collaborative here at Miami University is planning its own coworking experiment. The DWC is converting the Bachelor Hall 258 classroom into a coworking space, which should be open in time for the Fall 2010 semester.
What is the benefit of coworking space? According to Joe Raby (2010), “By aggregating businesses with varying specialties and focuses, coworking spaces can create communities ripe for partnerships. Whether it’s working directly together on a project, or simply running some prices by someone in an industry to make sure you’re getting a fair deal, there’s power in numbers.” This model of work/workspace applies the Surowiecki (2004) folksonomy hypothesis to an actual workplace design: Crowds have wisdom — IF you know how to organize and collect crowds, and the right kind of crowds, in ways that will maximize creativity, efficiency, and problem-solving capacity.
Coworking is just one example of an interactive model that requires us to rethink the nature of business communication. What are some others? I’ve asked a lot of questions here without providing very many answers. If you have some thoughts about any of these issues, or suggestions about what should be taught in a course on “interactive business communication,” I’d love to hear from you.
References and Sites
The CoWorking Institute
Raby, Joe. (2010, May 12). Why co-working makes sense for small businesses. Mashable.
Spinuzzi, Clay. (2011). Profiles of coworking spaces. Spinuzzi Blogspot.
Surowiecki, James. (2004). The wisdom of crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies, and nations. New York: Little Brown.