Sunday, 27 May 2018 10:06

Research says 'failing to focus on visual comms threatens productivity and engagement'


Walls of text just aren't cutting it for today's millennials, whose super stimulated visual cortexes seem to work much, much better when photos and videos tell the bigger story.

If a photo is worth a thousand words, and if we extrapolate that to a video being worth a thousand pictures, it doesn't necessary follow that you need a thousand millennials to be as productive as someone born before the year 2000.

No, that's just my little joke to break the ice with you, dear reader, although one wonders whether visual communications are the only way today's delicate millennial snowflakes can get anything done, or whether they're a glass of ice water for all of us stuck in the unproductive hell of modern-day office work.

Again, that's just me being funny, but hey, in one sense, we've all known for a very long time that photos, music and videos alongside text is usually a great thing – take a look at any modern webpage, and go back to those multimedia CDs from the mid 1990s when Windows 95 came on the scene to see just how pre-millennial today's millennial tastes truly were. 

Fast forward to 2018, and we now have a generation of millennials for whom growing up with multimedia was so normal and so natural, that an Internet outage that blocks them from Netflix, or Facebook, or anything else online is even worse than a power outage or broken water main down the street.

So, with millennials the focus, and millennials the new blood in businesses, it turns out that many Australian businesses are failing with their communications to the largest generation in the workforce — millennials — and it’s affecting "morale and productivity".

The research was conducted by visual content creation company TechSmith, which has been developing software solutions that help companies and individuals create and communicate with visuals for more than a quarter century, so the company is practically a millennial entity all its own.

And in this report, we discover:

  • Millennials are twice as likely to want to use more visual communications methods at work compared to baby boomers;
  • Businesses are falling short, with 44% of millennials believing their company's communications are outdated;
  • New scientific research reveals poor visual communications threaten productivity and engagement levels – not just with millennials, but with workers of all ages; and
  • One in two Australians say they would understand information more efficiently at work if their company increased visual communications.

So, just how thorough was this research, especially given the wafer thin attention span millennials seem to have for anything not flashing across their smart devices?

(Ok that's me with another joke again, but am I truly joking, or...? :-)

Well, we're told that the research, which surveyed 4500 office workers across six countries, including 500 Australian office workers, "reveals that younger workers prefer communications with more visual content — such as screenshots, screencasts, images, gifs, and short videos — when compared to other generations in the workforce."

On top of that, "millennials are twice as likely as Baby Boomers to use images and video to communicate in their own time outside of work (58% vs. 28%). And they are twice as likely to want more visual communications at work (43% compared to 19%)".

So, how advanced are Australian employers in this regard?

It turns out that "Australian employees were one of the most progressive workforces surveyed, with video communication and collaboration in the workplace being most called for by Australians compared with other countries that participated in the study".

"The study also found the Australian workforce placed a strong focus on work-based social networks, with 26% of Aussie companies investing in these channels over the last few years, compared with only 16% in the United States."

TechSmith chief executive Wendy Hamilton commented: “Social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which rely heavily on visual content for engagement, are the go-to way of connecting outside of work because this is how people prefer to communicate.

"Not only that, using images, screencasts and videos in workplace communications makes it easier to get a message across clearly and concisely.

“With millennials making up the largest generation in the workforce and Generation Z now moving through organisations too, it’s time leaders sat up and adapted to their new, image-hungry audiences.”

Despite these findings, the research also shows that "most employees believe their workplaces focus heavily on text-only email for internal communications".

"In fact, 47% of millennials say their company relies on plain-text email to communicate, with 44% saying their company's communications are outdated."

Other key findings confirm the demand for more visual content:

  • Sixty-seven percent of millennials want to use more image-based tools at work;
  • Sixty percent want to adopt video tools;
  • Fifty percent are keen to watch more short videos; and
  • Forty-nine percent want to see more animated gifs used in the workplace


We're then told that "only 30% of Australian employees believe they have access to the tools to communicate effectively in their role, showing a real opportunity for businesses to boost productivity by communicating better and faster with their employees".

"The research shows outdated communication has real-world consequences, sometimes leading to poor motivation and morale. Despite spending fewer years in the workforce, millennials are more likely than other generations to have been demotivated by poor company communications (43% compared to 35% of Gen X and 27% of baby boomers).

"Adding visual content to company communications can sound daunting, especially for those who are new to creating images and video, there are a number of simple ways to get started."

Hamilton added: “If you’re new to creating visual content, the key is to start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your employees by requiring all messages to include visuals.

"You could start by taking screenshots and marking them up to show changes you’d like to see on the company website, or make a short screencast video of how to access your new online HR system, etc.

"As you learn how simple it can be, I think you’ll find an organic and natural path to discovering how visuals can help your business better communicate.”

So, where's the science-y bit? Millennials (and their employers) want to know – and they probably want to Facebook, Instagram and WeChat it simultaneously.

Well, here we discover that "businesses which fail to unlock the value of visual communications seriously risk holding back productivity and engagement levels".

"New scientific research reveals that communications that include visual content such as screenshots, screencasts, or videos are better, faster and more engaging than plain text for nearly all employees – not just millennials":

  • Two-thirds (67%) of employees are better at completing tasks when information includes text with images or video than by communications featuring text alone.
  • What’s more, employees absorb information 7% more quickly when they are communicated using text with static images than when provided only with text.
  • Overall, companies would see an 8% improvement in accuracy by using text coupled with visuals – and a 6% improvement by using video.

Hamilton concluded: “When compounded per employee over every hour of every work day, the time and productivity that can be saved by communicating visually truly begins to add up.”

Dr. Alastair Goode, who led the scientific research, put the finishing touches to this visual masterpiece by stating: “More than half the human brain is involved in visual processing so visuals play a huge role in our ability to communicate. This research shows that, in a business scenario, visual communication prompts a deeper level of understanding and a more engaging experience for audiences.

“With our propensity for visualisation, it is no surprise that infographics, screenshots, screencasts, gifs, and short videos have become so popular and also means people are becoming more accustomed to absorbing information visually than ever before.”

The complete research findings can be found here


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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