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Covid-19 has shown us what it means to be isolated, disconnected and alone. As the post-pandemic world rebuilds itself, we will need to get serious about signalling our seriousness about diversity, inclusion and belonging to an ever-wider group of people. Visual communication is the key to speaking to us all; universally understood content that is highly effective and fits our new, digital context in lockdown and improve workplace communication.

This article pulls on a strand of a recent University of Amsterdam study testing the effectiveness of animation in workplace communication, told in the Post-Covid form of an animated story: https://youtu.be/SH7QzlPfyb8

New Landscapes

Covid-19 forced us into a regime of simultaneous, accelerated digital transformation as we abandoned our physical workspaces and events, and went digital, underground. All of us; all around the world.

Like an angry toddler shattering a Lego castle, the pandemic exploded our world into its many component pieces. The impact was felt across nearly every sector. Caught off guard, the result was unprecedented global job loss and sharp declines in spending[1]. The losers dumped talent wholesale onto the street. Winners became giants, building teams across many of the borders that used to divide us — country, culture, language — collecting those unique pieces under the sofa that they didn’t have access to before.

As we emerge from lockdown, we will need to reorganize our societies on a massive scale. Rebuild those castles. Forged in the digital bunker, resilient by necessity, this new world will look very different from our “BC” (Before Covid) playscape. For one thing, it will be much more diverse and inclusive than before[2]. Partially by necessity, partially by design, possibly helped by all of our needs to connect to one another on a human level.

Well before Covid-19 shook our foundations, we understood that diversity enriches our talent pool, drives financial performance, has PR benefits and means a flexible, global workforce operating across time zones, Sundays and Saturdays, through Christmas, Diwali and Lunar New Year alike[3]. Diversity means incorporating a wider perspective in-house. A broader range of linguistic abilities, cultures, religions, backgrounds, competences, skillsets and specializations[4]. Definitions of gender, disability and age ranges are also expanding[5].

This presents new challenges for communication. Firstly, linguistically, as a significant proportion of the workforce do not share a common language. English, our default, is used by most multinational companies, with nearly 80% by non-native speakers[6].

Post-Covid communication will need to get serious about projecting diversity, inclusion and belonging. It will need to be clear and unbiased combined with warm and human to form an immediate emotional connection with the listener[7]. But language is heavily loaded with bias and cultural assumptions. How do we do this without language?

The answer is visual communication. Visuals instantly explain complex ideas and processes more effectively than writing, overcoming language, cultural and cognitive barriers via a universal platform, the natural language of the brain[8]. Especially when the target audience lacks basic literacy or language skills, icons, illustrations or graphs can explain important information in a fraction of the time[9]. Highly effective in education, the business world is only starting to discover their power for internal and external communication[10].

Visual tools fit neatly into the lockdown environment and were heavily leveraged to explain the rules of the pandemic. Where to stand, where to sit and how to walk, how to sneeze and keep our distance. Wordless icons were found everywhere to convey vital information and express concern for each other. They appeared in nearly every context, from the thousands of “explainer” animations in every language imaginable, and via printable material on BBC, WHO, European Ministries of Health and CDC websites[11].

Why is Visual Communication so effective? Images work by reducing our Cognitive Load. Without the burden of text, more working memory can be used to process content. Intrinsic Load describes the inherent difficulty of subject matter while Extraneous Load refers to additional, non-relevant information which does not directly support learning goals but still must be processed, such as reading and understanding syntax and vocabulary associated with written language[12]. Cognitive Load can quickly turn into Cognitive Overload when material becomes overwhelming and lengthy[13]. Simple, flat visuals with an economy of color and form, ample empty space and reductive text, tackling one idea at a time, can focus the mind on the core message[14].

Improving our workplace communication with better visuals, more respect for our differences.

Well before Covid-19, we were communicating increasingly with visuals[15]. The need for higher levels of graphical proficiency was identified in nearly every professional field; so much so, that the idea of “visual literacy” — the ability to analyze, extract meaning and create effective visual messaging — was becoming an essential part of many university curricula, from engineering to medicine to journalism[16].

Add to this the rise of mobile phone usage and universal digital literacy where visual language forms the basis of the User Experience. From Tanzania to Tajikistan, we have all come to understand basic iconographic symbols that express “share”, “play”, “menu”, “send”, “search” and beyond. This common language defines us as a fundamentally social species, delighted with our technology. We are future-focused and compulsive communicators.

We are also not all that diverse from a biological perspective. Humans share 99.9% of their DNA with each other, making us less genetically differentiated than any other species, including the chimpanzee, our nearest relative[17]. We are much more the same than different.

Our Futures In-and-out of Lockdown

Covid-19 was one of the first pandemics to be studied deeply using AI, mobile technology and big data. A pattern is emerging of increasingly frequent pandemics due to globalization, urban spread and climate change[18]. Add other impending environmental crises — extreme heat, flooding, superstorms, parasites and pollution — and Covid-19 could just be a trial run for the next big thing that sends us back underground[19].

Aside from necessity, there is also choice. Covid-19 has taught us that we don’t have to gather physically to participate in conferences or training events. Our new-found freedom to define our workspace and schedules may prove too sweet abandon. The cost savings of a scaled-down office and the externalization of risk cannot have gone unnoticed in the boardroom.

So, keep the digital offices on standby and don’t throw away those Uber Eats coupons just yet.

This moment in history may well be defined by a fundamental split: carefree, maskless “BC” Before Covid and wary, lockdown-ready PC, Post-Covid. We have all been changed by the experience. With time and space to reflect, we may gain a visceral understanding of our vulnerability. We need information, but importantly, we need connection and belonging to survive extended periods of isolation and connect across our global, diverse workforce.

Our abilities to communicate inclusion and belonging, cut across cultural and geographic boundaries to reach the human at the other end who is only 0.1% different from us will be the key to our resilience and success in the future. Our capacity to tell our stories, make them understandable, convincing, universally compelling to inspire, connect and align will be an essential evolutionary step in the story of our humanity.

Get fresh, monthly comics about communication in our post-covid times to read or share.

Sources:

[1] Wolfe, N. (2020, April 15). COVID-19 Won’t Be the Last Pandemic. Here’s What We Can Do to Protect Ourselves. From Time.com: ttps://time.com/5820607/nathan-wolfe-coronavirus-future-pandemic

[2] Sneader, K. a. (2020, March). Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal. From McKinsey & Company: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/beyond-coronavirus-the-path-to-the-next-normal

[3] Lorenzo, R., & Reeves, M. (2018). How and where diversity drives financial performance. Harvard Business Review, 30.

[4] Lorenzo, R. V. (2018). How diverse leadership teams boost innovation. Boston Consulting Group.

[5] Rahman, U. H. (2019). Diversity Management and the Role of Leader. Open Economics, 2(1), 30–39.

[6] Gajšt, N. (2014). Business English as a lingua franca–a cross-cultural perspective of teaching English for business purposes. English Language Overseas Perspectives and Enquiries, ELOPE: E 11(2), 77–87.
Palmer-Silveira, J. (2019). Introducing Business Presentations to Non-Native Speakers of English: Communication Strategies and Intercultural Awareness.

[7] Barrett, D. (2002). Change communication: using strategic employee communication to facilitate major change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 7(4), 219–231.

[8] Waldeck, J. D. (2012). Communication in a changing world: Contemporary perspectives on business communication competence. Journal of Education for Business, 87(4), 230–240.

Leung, Y. K. (1995). Multimedia animations to enhance learning complex concepts in data communications. Melbourne: Proceedings of 12th Annual Conference of the Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE).

[9] Vigoroso, L. C. (2020). Occupational safety and visual communication: User-centred design of safety training material for migrant farmworkers in Italy. Safety science, 121, 562–572.

[10] Clark, R. C. (2011). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Matthews, W. J. (2007). Memory for moving and static images. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(5), doi:10.3758/bf03194133., 989–993.

Mutiarani, M. &. (2019). Indonesian Folklore Animation as English Learning Media and Students’ Character Education for Primary School. Semnasfip.

Scheiter, K. G. (2010). The acquisition of problem-solving skills in mathematics: How animations can aid understanding of structural problem features and solution procedures. Instructional Science, 38(5), 487–502.

Stebner, F. K. (2017). The role of process information in narrations while learning with animations and static pictures. Computers & Education, 104, 34–48.

Wender, K. F. (2003). Animated diagrams in teaching statistics. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers 35(2), 255–258.

Gillespie, C. (2019, September 11). How Long Should Videos Be? The Ultimate Guide to Video Length. From vidyard.com: https://www.vidyard.com/blog/video-length/

[11] Kennedy, O. (2020, March 9). Covid-19: what you need to know. From Enigma: https://enigma.swiss/en/blog/covid-19-has-already-changed-the-way-we-do-business

McCoy, E. (2020, April 9). How Brand Video Can Put People First During the Covid-19 Crisis; Motion Graphics, Visual Content in the Real World. From killervisualstrategies.com: https://killervisualstrategies.com/blog/animated-explainer-brand-video

[12] Paas, F. V. (2010). Cognitive Load Theory: New conceptualizations, specifications, and integrated research perspectives. Educational psychology review, 22(2), 115–121.

[13] Clark, R. C. (2011). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

[14] Vigoroso, L. C. (2020). Occupational safety and visual communication: User-centred design of safety training material for migrant farmworkers in Italy. Safety science, 121, 562–572.

[15] Christopherson, J. T. (1997). The Growing Need for Visual Literacy at the University.

[16] Brumberger, E. (2007). Visual communication in the workplace: A survey of practice. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16(4), 369–395.

Christopherson, J. T. (1997). The Growing Need for Visual Literacy at the University.

[17] Ramsey, L. and Lee, S. “Humans share almost all of our DNA with cats, cattle and mice”, The Independent. Accessed November 23, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/human-dna-share-cats-cattle-mice-same-genetics-code-a8292111.html

Jorde, L. B. 2003. Genetic variation and human evolution. American Society of Human Genetics. Available at: https://www.ashg.org/education/pdf/geneticvariation.pdf (accessed November 23, 2020).

[18] Whiting (2020, March 4). Coronavirus isn’t an outlier, it’s part of our interconnected viral age. From World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-global-epidemics-health-pandemic-covid-19/

[19] Craven (2020, March 30). COVID-19 Briefing note: our latest perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic. From McKinsey & Company

Kennedy (2020, March 9). Covid-19: what you need to know. From Enigma: https://enigma.swiss/en/blog/covid-19-has-already-changed-the-way-we-do-businessFiona Passantino

Fiona Passantino is a professional Creative Storyteller, Visual Communication Specialist and Explainer-in-Chief. She lives in the Hague, the Netherlands.Follow

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