There is a good assumption that effective communications are the main source of success for any business entity to survive, prosper, and grow. In fact, the importance of communications has been brought up as an essential tool in achieving productivity and maintaining strong working relationships in any business sector.
With the advent of globalisation, digitalisation, and mobility, the world has seen changes in communication technologies as the growth of connectivity has been influencing people’s mind over the last decade. The good news is that digital connectivity is here to stay and the future is promising, especially for those industries where constant communications between onshore locations and remote facilities are a high priority.
For instance, the maritime industry has seen improvements in sea-to-shore connectivity, allowing seafarers to enjoy, to some extent, the benefits of digital communications and real-time solutions for work and personal use. Yet, there are some misconceptions against onboard connectivity that need to be rejected as enhanced communications could change the life of those people who spend much of their lives at sea.
Those misconceptions repeatedly comprise costs (installation and running costs), content viewed or downloaded, and resulting distractions. However, the world is experiencing the benefits of the so-called networked economy, where connectivity is not a luxury but a basic right for everyone. It is imperative, though, to explain why investing on enhanced communications is a great business idea, and how this game-changing move improves the quality of lives of seafarers onboard.
Seafarers are the most important and qualified employees to work onboard. Providing them with Internet access and other digital applications, improves their quality of life, and helps attract the best talent whilst also optimising vessels and productivity. In consequence, management would have the ability to implement HR programs that increase retention rates for sustainable development and job satisfaction.
The 2015 Crew Connectivity Survey, undertaken by Futurenautics Research, brought forth important figures to the inclusion of crew morale as a core business value. “At recruitment, 73% of respondents said that the level of crew communications services provided onboard did influence their decision about which shipping company they work for.” In other words, most seafarers are telling us that no matter how great the company could be, connecting to the outside world is crucial.
Seafaring is an inherently isolated occupation. There is a huge risk that crew who spend months away from home could develop feelings of boredom, marginality, exclusion, anger, despair, sadness, frustration, and especially loneliness. Maritime companies, particularly in the shipping sector, are responsible for mitigating the loneliness of being away from home and reducing other psychological side effects, so potential seafarers could find their careers more bearable and attractive.
A recent investigation made by Nautilus International has found that despite some companies believing that social interaction is affected by the provision of enhanced communications onboard vessels, seafarers rated not “speaking the common language” as having the highest impact on social interaction at work. This finding breaks the scepticism that connectivity does not foster community, togetherness, and teamwork values whilst at work.
Maintaining links with home
One of the main concerns for seafarers is that bandwidth at sea is often narrow, expensive, and unreliable, making it difficult for crews to maintain good contact with their families unless they are in port. In the digital age, furnishing seafarers with poor Internet access is counterproductive, as companies that invest in high-bandwidth sea-to-shore connectivity can not only benefit from greater operational efficiencies but they can also boost the morale of their employees by providing technology that facilitates advanced communications such as video calling.
As in business, a happy crew leads to a stable ship, and that is the case for the Engine Cadet, Zypert Barcelo, who was lucky enough to be on a ship – Maersk Laberinto – that provides connectivity at no cost. The seaman reported that he was able to perform effectively onboard as he had the ability to keep in touch with his family for emotional support, which made his life at sea easier. Although there is a risk of home-related distractions, connectivity outweighs work-related challenges for our last two following reasons.
Providing computer-based training and E-learning is a source of competitive advantage as there is an ever-increasing need for innovation in the industry to reduce operational, safety, and cyber-security costs. As the world moves toward digitalisation, training and development should be indispensable to supply seafarers with skills that meet the technical requirements of modern vessels and the customised needs of companies and their customers.
To quote an example, the recent cyber-attack that shut down Maersk’s business units and IT systems, is a crystal-clear sign that the shipping industry has failed to push staff-awareness and preventive training onto the agenda. The case for security gets even more dramatic when you look at the findings from Nautilus International that show 86% of survey respondents claim that they have never received any sort of training in cyber-security, which makes companies fearful and more reluctant to consider crew connectivity.
As the generation gap is widening in the workplace, so-called millennials are starting to question the status quo with new communications requirements and expectations onboard. To appeal to the millennial generation, Mark Charman, CEO at Faststream Recruitment Group, advised recruiters to focus on the most important factors that younger crews consider in choosing an employer: competitive salary, shorter rotations, fast promotions, new vessels, and more importantly, onboard connectivity.
While vessels are becoming more modern and new systems being put in place with integral connectivity solutions and controls, forward-thinking ship owners need to see the technological and economic opportunity that a new generation of seafarers poses to the market. By virtue, millennials are technology advocates, who easily adapt to new digital advances and trends, and make a great use of mobile applications to undertake sophisticated initiatives and other work-related tasks while keeping in touch with the outside world.