We’re living in the communication age. Nowadays, communication is verbal, written, electronic, and everything in-between. Our global village has never been more interconnected—we can instantly get in touch with people on the other side of the world from the palm of our hands.
And thanks to the pandemic, omnichannel communication has now permeated our professional lives, as well as our personal ones.
- Research suggests that the pandemic sped up companies’ digital communication strategies by approximately 6 years.
- The average employee now uses 3.3 workplace chat apps, though many will also speak to colleagues via personal apps (such as their own WhatsApp accounts.)
- Despite communication’s undoubted importance, 50% of companies lack a long-term internal communications strategy.
Poor communication can be a productivity-sapper for companies of all shapes and sizes. Consider that the average employee wastes 32 days per year simply switching back and forth between different communication channels.
The frequency, intensity, and means by which we communicate with colleagues have turned upside down over the past year. The 5 key questions outlined below will help you audit the impact of this disruption on your company’s current communications strategy. By answering them, you’ll be able to identify key issues that are hindering productivity and reducing employee engagement—and will be able to devise a better way to communicate with your colleagues moving forward.
5 questions to get to the heart of your company’s communication strategy (or lack thereof)
Perhaps you’re suffering from inbox-phobia, where the mere thought of opening your ever-growing inbox fills you with dread. Or maybe you’re a Slack-addict that loves to stay in the loop with the latest office politics—but are growing acutely aware that you eventually have to sit down and do some actual work.
Whichever category you fall into, take some time to mull over the following questions. The answers—and what they reveal about your workplace’s communication habits—might surprise you.
1. What is “problematic communication” and how is it affecting your company?
You might have a nagging feeling that constant communication is hindering, rather than helping, your company. But the first step is to define what “problematic communication” actually means. This might include:
- Unhelpful expectations: You might feel pressured to respond quickly to messages at all times, especially if managers praise ‘always-on’ communicators.
- Lengthy approval processes: Perhaps even the smallest of changes need to be approved by senior management. However, if they’re usually slow to respond, this means that projects have to wait on pause until they get around to answering.
- Poor choice of channels: We’ve all been there, stuck in an overly long video call or an in-person meeting that really could’ve been an email. This is endlessly frustrating and has a knock-on impact on multiple peoples’ productivity.
Unclear communication: Some people struggle to get their point across. While this is understandable (after all, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses), unclear communication can significantly delay projects—or even lead to large mistakes.
Once you’ve identified how problematic communication manifests itself within your organization, come up with 3 - 5 specific situations where you feel like it directly impacted a project or task. You won’t convince others to change their communication habits unless you prove that they’re negatively affecting your company’s success.
You might even notice that certain departments were hit especially hard during the pandemic. While the marketing team loves remote collaboration, sitting at home in sweatpants while sipping their favorite smoothies, those on the factory floor have really suffered. In-person communication is their bread and butter—especially when they’re trying to fix technical, complex problems that are right in front of them.
2. Am I part of the problem?
Mull over your own flaws before accusing others of being poor communicators.
You might be thinking: “Whoah, hang on—are you saying I’m guilty of the very problem I’m committed to solving?”
Don’t worry, we’re not—we’re merely asking you to consider your own communication shortcomings. Perhaps you’re guilty (like most of us) of sending delayed responses to others when they’re in a pinch, but expecting instant answers when you’re the one that’s facing a problem.
Think of specific instances when your communication has been subpar and consider the impact this had on your colleagues around you. How did the pandemic impact your communication? Did you relish the fact that it was easier to dodge non-urgent (or at least, not urgent to you) emails and instant messages?
It can be easy to cast blame around your company but don't do this without first considering your own habits. None of us are perfect—so take a second to realize that you may well be part of the problem.
3. How has your company’s communication strategy adapted to handle the rise of remote working?
Given the explosion of communication channels in recent years, you could be forgiven for thinking that communicating remotely is as easy as pie. Sure—it can be—but it requires a certain amount of thought to get right. You might loop remote workers into big, important meetings. However, do you also remember to update them with the latest developments that you heard about when you had an in-person chat with your manager at lunch?
Likewise, how can you allow remote colleagues to have uninterrupted periods for deep work while still ensuring you can get in touch with them when necessary? Does your company have any best practices for communicating throughout hybrid organizations? Has it outlined instances where virtual meetings are best—and conversely, cases when a simple email or instant message will suffice?
If not, then you might be walking into a communication crisis without even knowing it. Hybrid organizations cannot hope to simply uphold the status quo—especially not one that was created under very different working conditions.
4. How do you use the tools at your disposal?
Slack, Teams, email, Zoom, WhatsApp… The list of potential communication channels is endless. However, it’s worth noting that not all channels are created equal—they each have their own specific strengths and weaknesses. Take a moment to consider whether your company has a general policy in place outlining which tools to use and in which particular instances.
For example, this might be as follows:
- Short, often informal internal communication that requires speedy responses: Use Slack or other instant-messaging tools.
- Lengthier, more serious communication that may involve external parties: Opt for email instead.
- Important brainstorming get-togethers and client-facing meetings: Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangouts are all great options when you need to communicate face-to-face but cannot do so in person. But keep these for important meetings only as zoom fatigue is a very real concern.
- Real-time support: If you have a problem that urgently needs to be fixed—for instance if one of your manufacturing machines is broken—then opt for AR-based remote support tools like Re’flekt Remote.
5. What does ideal company communication look like?
Before you go in all guns blazing and demanding a complete communication overhaul, first identify what ideal communication actually looks like within your company. How can you communicate effectively when all working remotely? How can you strike the perfect balance between being interconnected and having the time—and space—needed to focus on key tasks?
You already have a list of examples when your company’s communication was problematic. Now, do the reverse: think of times when it was effective and really helped to speed a project along, clear up confusion, or bring people together.
Dig into why these examples were so effective. Was it the fact that the appropriate channel was used? Or that every single employee was free to air their concerns? Does one department have a fantastic strategy that everybody adheres to (such as blocking out certain hours of the day as communication-free periods where people can engage in deep work)?
Figure out what works and think of a way to scale this throughout your business. Don’t expect immediate improvements. However, if you think your company has a communication problem, you can’t expect to solve it without providing a clear and effective alternative.
Empathize—but don’t stay stuck in the mud
The pandemic has been hard on everybody. Trying to maintain business-as-usual when life is anything but normal has been an ever-evolving challenge. Communication has been arguably more critical than ever before, keeping disparate employees connected—and keeping companies running.
We’ve all been trying our best, so there’s no point playing the blame game. That said, if your company has a communication problem, you need to tackle this as soon as possible. Approach the subject with empathy and understanding while also presenting an alternative solution. Don’t point fingers—instead, point everyone in the right direction.
Consider systemic communication structures and company-wide expectations. Mull over how you use the technology at your disposal and if any other tools could increase your company’s ability to communicate effectively (for instance, by providing technical teams with crucial remote support). To learn more about the role that Re’flekt plays in offering such support, get in touch with a member of our team or explore our extensive report on the workplace of the future.