Communication in the workplace should be the focal point of every business endeavor.
“Communication,noun (com·mu·ni·ca·tion | \ kə-ˌmyü-nə-ˈkā-shən)—a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.”—Miriam-Webster
This isn’t hyperbole. When it comes to running a company or managing a team, communication in the workplace is critical to sustaining the success of any undertaking.
Sure, a business plan is important. Of course, funding that business is a definite must-do, and so is having a killer go-to-market strategy. But all those vital aspects of business take planning – and planning without communication doesn’t really work.
Assuming you launch a company or a business division, the need to communicate becomes even more essential. Failure to share information with your employees on company goals, processes, strategies, financial plans, marketing plans or any other aspect of a business can be fatal.
So let’s spend some time digging into the challenges of effective communication in the workplace, why it’s critical every manager and Human Resources (HR) department examine how they disseminate and share information, and how to improve the ways we work together.
The Workplace Communication Revolution
The business world is in the middle of a communication platform explosion. Less than 25 years ago, the primary forms of communication in the workplace were verbal exchanges between people in a shared space or different spaces over the phone, and written communication in the form of letters, posted memos, handwritten notes, faxes and Post-Its. Of course, there were other modes of communication in the workplace: telegraphs, telexes, and training videos. But these were the exceptions.
Now, businesses are confronted with a barrage of communications options that have transformed the workplace. Traditionally, work has been tied to specific physical spaces because being in the same place facilitated company-wide communication. Those spaces were all in a specific, geographically defined workplace; you could meet with your staff in your office, in a conference room or on the factory floor.
But the digital revolution—the internet, cloud computing, application software—has changed the definition of what a workplace is. Workers can now communicate with each other at the same time from different places. The workplace can be a corporate office in New York. But if that corporation uses remote workers, the workplace may also be an employee’s home office in Boise, Idaho or team of contractors in Mumbai, India.
Elastic Workplace Communication
What makes the elasticity of the workplace possible are a plethora of new communication platforms and tools that can bring far-flung workers together. Email is the most obvious and prevalent tool for this. You can send a memo out to one employee or one hundred employees in a matter of seconds. But there is no guarantee everyone will see the email, open the email, or understand the email.
To unite a disparate workforce, a slew of tools exist to help you herd a virtual staff together for a meet. Conference calls are the oldest method. But now there is also a myriad of video-driven experiences: Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, and dozens more that offer video conferencing solutions that require little more than a computer and an internet connection. When everyone is conferenced together, the workplace has just expanded. The instantaneous two-way communication of the traditional workplace can now be replicated.
The Importance Of Organizational Communication in the Workplace
While Skype-like programs can bring workers together, companies with employees who work in different time zones or on different continents face a new challenge. Companies employing freelancers who use time management software, like Time Clock Wizard, to track hours as workers across the globe start and stop their day, have a significant challenge: communicating outside the normal parameters of time.
Exchanging information—instructions, memos, requests, assignments—in a continuous flow that does not require fixed-in-time-encounters is known as asynchronous communication. It is not an entirely new phenomenon—when your boss leaves a voicemail or sends you an email while you are on vacation, and you respond one week later, that is an asynchronous exchange of information.
A exponential number of companies need solutions to centralize and track organizational communication. Fortunately, more tech companies are providing these solutions in the form of social collaboration tools. These include Slack, Bitrix24, Front, DirectorPoint and many others. The through-line with most of them is that they offer a virtual workplace that allows for group chats, direct messaging, task assignments, document sharing and many other forms of communication exchange—and they offer access across desktop, tablet and phone touch-points.
For companies who rely on remote workforces, these collaboration tools are the ultimate communication in workplace elasticity. The workplace is now virtual, accessible anywhere at any time.
There are other benefits besides elasticity. Knowing you can access assignments and read previous communications at any time may allow remote workers to dig and focus on tasks for long periods of time without fear of missing an email. These systems automatically harvest communication exchanges, so there are records of what was said when, eliminating confusion, and improving efficiency.
The Challenges Of Organizational Communication
There are two substantial communication challenges for employers who rely on collaborative technology to run the business. First and foremost, you have to have your communication game together. Onboarding new employees can be confusing for newcomers to the collaborative paradigm. So having full documentation of the portal, of your employees’ job descriptions, assignments and remote workplace do’s and don’ts is essential.
The other problem with these portals is something that might be termed “chat churn.” The bigger the group communicating, the more posts, the more questions, the more anecdotes. No doubt all these exchanges can be useful – but also unproductive. Logging in to the collaborative workplace portal and seeing that there 200 chat posts are in a queue is never fun. It gets worse when none of those posts are relevant to you.
Still, those posts may be relevant to someone else in the workgroup. It’s advisable to remind employees that not all issues need to broadcast widely and that if they have a specific question for a particular person in the company, sending an individual message may be the best way to go for all involved.
One of the downsides of the mania for collaborative platforms and texts, instant messages, tweets, posts and emails, is that making a phone call—the most direct, precise and flexible form of communication this side of a face-to-face meeting—has become a lost art.
For some millennial and generation Z employees, it’s never been a regular part of their communication arsenal. For workers who live on different continents, it makes perfect sense to avoid phone calls. For the traditional workplace though, having employees who are downright phone call phobic can be a serious communication problem.
So if you have younger employees on staff, it’s actually worth spending time revisiting the joy of telephonic communication.
You don’t need to lecture or preach. You can even make it fun. Give them a handout, or send out a memo.
The Top Ten Reasons to Make Work Phone Calls that Will Blow Your Mind.
- Some old media, like vinyl, is cool. Phones calls belong in this category. Trust us.
- If there’s a work emergency that requires two people in different locations to exchange verbal information to resolve the crisis, nothing is faster than a phone call.
- Actually, telepathy is faster. If you are telepathic, go for it.
- That old guy, Peter, who works in near the copy machine and is the go-to guy for rebooting our servers? He is over 50 and doesn’t have kids. So he’s never texted in his life. If we need a reboot, call him! There is no guarantee he’ll see the text you send him promptly. Or ever.
- When you call a person—say, like that guy Peter by the copy machine— because you need help solving an emergency, and they answer the phone, well, that is a beautiful moment. A solution to the crisis is at hand. Your heart will lift. Your face will expand into a smile. A solution to the emergency is at hand. Experience it.
- When the person you need to contact doesn’t answer your call, you can slam your phone down just like actors do in the movies. This is often a therapeutic moment of release. You can’t slam a text. And if you do slam that smartphone down, you are going to crack your screen, and that will really be a bummer.
- If you have a thorny issue, a conflict or disagreement with a co-worker, texting or emailing isn’t always the ideal way to work through things. Sometimes a conversation—a phone conversation—can resolve things far more quickly than a lengthy email exchange. Also, that email back-and-forth leaves a paper—okay, digital—trail, which may or may not be a good thing (especially, if things get heated, or it turns out you are in the wrong).
- If you missed the point of #7, it’s that phone calls are really efficient.
- Phone calls can lead to spontaneous conversation and discovery—the freeform flow of dialogue often leads to new topics of discussion and new revelations. In other words, making a phone call may result in unintended, mutually beneficial exchanges—exchanges of humor, updates on a new vinyl release, or sharing the fact that someone just brought two dozen donuts into the kitchen.
- Calling a boss with a “just to let you know” update is another way to let them know you are invested in improving communication in the workplace. If it feels like you are brown-nosing, don’t do this. But if there’s an issue you know your boss is concerned about, calling conveys urgency and can be a tool for bonding.