Communication is a process that entails a sender sending a message to a recipient. The recipient processes the message and responds accordingly. When people communicate with each other, we talk of interpersonal communication (physical, face-to-face) or mediated communication (with the aid of technologies). The method of communication will determine whether or not the recipient understands the message correctly. This can have far-reaching consequences in a work situation. Using the right digital technologies will enable you to make your communication process a great deal safer and more efficient.
At the international RemTech Expo that will take place from 21 to 23 September 2022 in Ferrara (Italy), Jasper Schmeits will give a presentation in which he will elaborate on the applications of digital technologies by means of example projects and how we have facilitated internal and external communication about these. His presentation 'Considerations within different digital communication techniques' on 22 September from 17.20-17.35h is part of the 'Session 23 - HRSC, High Resolution Site Characterization'. Anyone can join the session digitally (free of charge) via this link.
Monday. For me, as a consultant and innovation manager, it’s a day that starts with the usual appointments: planning meeting, weekly start with the data team, progress meetings for various innovative projects… And yet for many colleagues Mondays start with field work. I noticed during one of my Monday morning meetings that I’d missed several calls from my colleague Stijn. I suddenly remembered: oh yes, he was working on that complex job and was supposed to be doing some specific deep drilling work for me! I apologise to my colleagues in the meeting and call Stijn back instantly. He shares a flood of information on numbers of monitoring well pipes and names of buildings. I try to create a picture in my mind. Meanwhile, Stijn asks me whether there will be any issues with drilling the new borehole a little further along due to the accessibility for the machine and the inconvenience for the client. I don’t have the overview maps to hand, but in principle a little further along the plume’s current shouldn’t be a problem. So I respond: ‘Sure, Stijn, go ahead. I don’t see why that should be an issue. But send me some photos, just to be on the safe side, okay?’
As I said, the method of communication determines how a message is received, processed and understood. The same principle applies to the conversation between me and Stijn. A misunderstanding arose, as I was picturing a groundwater contamination situation and Stijn was providing an explanation from his local work setting. My interpretation of ‘a little further along’ was different to what Stijn intended. Fortunately, we managed to avoid any problems by means of a photo, but I didn’t receive the photo until after I’d finished my meeting, making this an instance of inefficient time usage.
The example above is not an isolated incident. Communicating is an art in itself and it is common for information to be interpreted differently than intended. Digital technologies have the capacity to aid the communication process. Video calling via WhatsApp, Teams and field computers is now the norm, but wearables such as Google Glass, RealWear HMT-1 augmented reality glasses (AR glasses) and Microsoft HoloLens are gaining ground too. Even advanced static camera systems, which can be operated remotely, are being used in certain situations.
The Covid-19 pandemic increased the need to deploy and use digital communication technologies and made them more interesting. Digital skills – acquired due to having to work from home – became commonplace and all kinds of hybrid forms of working were created. It soon became normal for me to work remotely too. And this case in point inspired me and my colleagues to continue optimising our communication through the use of digital technologies, including for the purposes of communicating with our external specialists in the field. This could pertain to monitoring work during a remediation project, checking whether the contractor is working to schedule, adapting our strategy in the event of unexpected circumstances arising, taking samples in the construction pit and carrying out safety inspections in the workplace.
In the capacity of innovation manager, I am engaged in making the pros and cons of various digital communication systems transparent. The challenge is to use the right technology for the specific issue or situation. In that regard, it is not the system itself that I focus on primarily but the people involved in the communication objective. I consider this on the basis of the following questions:
Various factors will steer the choice of technology. Technological developments have made it possible nowadays to go beyond purely exchanging audio and visual material. An important addition is the experiential aspect that you can convey. For example, you can add extra ‘layers’, such as by projecting the future situation onto the current situation. Another possibility is to designate specific locations where a new borehole is to be sited from your laptop. In some cases, the interaction with the recipient can go one step further, in the form of a specialist or final assessor being ‘flown in’ and the worker in the field being his or her local hands, feet, eyes and ears.
Another essential aspect when selecting a suitable means of communication is the extent to which it is safe. Video calling via WhatsApp is not as safe a way of communicating the work situation, as the worker in the field will not have his hands free and, even more importantly, he will often not have his full attention on what is going on around him. TAUW’s preference in these types of situation is advanced systems, such as AR glasses or a HoloLens. These can already be incorporated into a construction helmet. Which is safe for the sender and also enhances the experiential aspect for the recipient.
After all, if Stijn (from our case study) had called me using AR glasses, then it would have been much easier for him to immerse me in the process and we would have been able to settle on a suitable location much more quickly.
The trick is to ensure that our staff have a decent communication system at their disposal to enable them to perform their work safely and efficiently. Each and every work situation is different and will call for a particular digital communication technology. One thing that is certain is that, in order to make the right choice, you must always put your employee first!