When you watch any team sport you’ll notice that the players huddle up with their coach from time to time. Even on the field, they continue to communicate with each other with hand signals to know what formation to make, when to strike, or when to execute a play.
Team sports are an excellent display of effective communication – or, conversely, lack thereof. It’s pretty easy to tell as an audience when your favorite sports team isn’t united. Workplaces can take a cue from some of the most successful teams in the history of athletics by improving the way they communicate with each other.
A single player kept out of the loop can put an entire play in jeopardy, which is why you need to make everyone understand the ultimate goal and their part in achieving it.
The first step to enabling your employees for success is to give them clear instructions on their roles and responsibilities in the workplace. In fact, a survey by Effectory reveals that only 53% of employees have ‘high role clarity’. This group is more effective, productive, satisfied, and willing to stay compared to those who are unsure of what’s expected of them.
Conversely, a bottom-up communication approach can help various areas of the business. When you gather input from everyone, you can foster innovation, collaboration, and a culture of trust and belongingness.
The Role of Communication in Today’s Workplace
Today’s businesses are even more dependent on internal communication. We can chalk it up to the evolving future of work, which looks more and more like a remote or a hybrid model.
Apple, Google, and Twitter are few of the tech giants that have already adopted a hybrid model. A portion of their workforce reports from home while others work on-site, and we can expect this type of arrangement to become the norm moving forward.
That said, remote or hybrid work policies bring their own communication challenges as team members cannot walk up to an employee’s desk to provide or ask for feedback. Organizing team building activities to keep employees engaged can also become more challenging with people working across regions. All are reasons for you to improve coordination, especially if you’re not working in the same physical space.
Different Methods of Workplace Communication
Today, remote or hybrid workplaces are mostly concerned with knowing when to apply synchronous and asynchronous communication.
The examples we gave above—a next-to-desk chat, scheduled or unscheduled meetings, team building activities—describe synchronous communication. It pertains to real-time interactions, whether virtual, voice, or in-person. For instance, video conferences happen at the same time and encourage a quick exchange of information.
On the other hand, it’s possible to interact without expecting an immediate response through asynchronous communication. There’s less urgency to respond to an email, for example, compared to a phone call from your boss.
One method is not better than the other. Rather, there is a proper time and place to apply either one. If you want an active discussion with quick results, your team might prefer to communicate in real time through weekly meetings or informal water cooler conversations.
But you don’t need to call everyone into the conference or the Zoom room for an update. Surely, you’ve come across studies describing meetings as a time suck, which is counterproductive to their goal of being productive.
Additionally, SurveyMonkey found that 32% of a study’s respondents feel that work meetings could have been summarized into an email. And yes, this survey includes remote workers who have reported attending more virtual gatherings in their new WFH setup.
In that case, you should rely on synchronous communication methods sparingly. Limit real-time interactions to urgent tasks, or those requiring in depth conversations, such as brainstorming sessions.
Meanwhile, asynchronous communication benefits teams with remote workers spread across various time zones. For instance, you can send audio messages instead of voice calls if you want a hands-free way to communicate. Opt for this style if your workplace doesn’t mind a more flexible or relaxed pace, which employees will certainly appreciate.
Signs of Ineffective Workplace Communication
Poor communication creates unnecessary conflict in the workplace. The good news is that it’s usually easy to tell if you need to overhaul your communication strategies ASAP. Here are some signs to watch out for.
1. The team exhibits low productivity.
Is your team unproductive to the point of missing important deadlines? Is it common for your employees to unnecessarily double the work, or worse, generate the wrong results altogether? If so, you might want to evaluate if you’re getting your point across.
The loss in productivity of your team may be due to miscommunication. Ambiguous phrasing, time zone mixups, and unclear expectations are some examples of oversights that could result in low employee performance.
2. The team experiences low morale.
Added stress and low morale are two of the most significant effects of poor communication. Aside from meetings and lack of clarity, different communication styles also create barriers for employees.
For instance, some of your staff may find it stressful to navigate tech-based collaboration tools, making those tools counterproductive to your goal of facilitating teamwork across spaces and time zones.
When you have a noticeable gap in the skills and needs of your employees, communication silos develop. You’ll notice poor collaboration within and across teams as people aren’t able to build a rapport amongst each other.
There’s also such a thing as over communicating. When you bombard your employees with emails and meetings, they could end up stressed or burnt out.
3. There is measurable financial loss in the organization.
Pre-pandemic, business recorded a loss of about $400 billion due to ineffective communication strategies. Negative employee experiences, according to experts, ultimately impact customer experience.
A high employee turnover rate is another way you’re flushing money down the drain. Hiring and training new employees is significantly costlier than retaining the ones you have now.
Lack of communication skills can create a high stress environment at work. The risk? You could drive employees to resignation and record noticeable financial loss.
6 Key Strategies to Improve Workplace Communication
Here’s another piece of good news: poor communication is not irreparable. The changes you make don’t have to be drastic either.
Below we’ve listed six key strategies you can apply to improve communication in the workplace:
1. Be clear and straight to the point.
Lack of preparation, vague agenda, and redundant discussions turn meetings into a time suck. Similarly, unclear job descriptions and expectations create confusion around the workplace. In both scenarios, lack of clarity is the culprit behind poor communication.
In any situation, though, you need to understand what you want the other person to understand. This will allow you to craft and deliver a message effectively. For example, don’t call a meeting without knowing the points you want to discuss. You’ll end up wasting people’s time, including yours.
Preparation also entails the delivery. Will you have a visual presentation? How do you plan on engaging the participants?
For asynchronous communication, you can make use of organizational features on your team’s messaging platform. These tools help your team members navigate discussions with ease and find which tasks to act on.
Being prepared not only eliminates uncertainty in the workplace, it also encourages others to match your level of enthusiasm.
2. Apply communication strategies that align with your team’s needs and goals.
Relying on one mode of communication is a recipe for disaster. For example, you don’t need to call a meeting for every little update. Sometimes, it’s more productive to pare down communication to a simple note that everyone can send a ‘thumbs up’ to.
More importantly, not everyone responds to certain styles and tools in the same way. Understandably, remote employees in a different time zone might prefer to be looped in via asynchronous messaging tools over synchronous communication methods. Some might want more one-on-one face time with the boss, while others thrive in group interactions.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for any individual or team. As the leader, you need to be attuned to their skills, needs, and goals. This way, you can create communication methods that make sense for the individual and the whole. This is where all-in-one tools such as Rock come in handy, as teams can switch between messages, tasks, notes, meetings and files without having to leave the platform.
3. Mix one-on-one interactions with group meetings.
It’s important to balance your energy between group meetings and one-on-one interactions. Do you want to touch base with several members of a team project? Perhaps you want to facilitate a group discussion and gather insights from everyone. In those cases, a team meeting might be more productive.
But if much of the agenda you have planned only concerns one person, call off the meeting and host a one-on-one instead.
You can also use this face time to understand your employees or colleagues better. Maybe you have some individual feedback to pass on. You might simply want to check in with them. These scenarios can be better discussed in a one-on-one discussion instead of inviting people to a team meeting where they have no input.
4. Let people speak freely.
It’s important to give everyone a chance to speak their mind. With new information, they could have innovative solutions to problems or fresh ideas that the organization would benefit from.
These free-flowing discussions allow people to feel understood and, more importantly, important. Knowing how people think and work can also cultivate a more collaborative environment and eliminate communication gaps.
That said, you don’t need the structured setting of a brainstorming session or evaluation to ask for ideas or feedback. Start an open door policy to encourage people to share feedback, questions, and ideas whenever they come up with any. Cultivate this culture of open sharing as well virtually by creating a dedicated channel for polls, message threads, or reactions.
5. Document and store information thoroughly.
Diligent documentation is even more vital now with teams working asynchronously. You don’t want certain members of the team to be out of the loop just because they’re in a different time zone.
This is why it’s important to choose your communication platform wisely. Opt for software with unlimited messaging for proper documentation of conversations and unlimited message search.
Your communication software should allow you to organize discussions in different ways by employing different communication channels such as tasks, notes, messages, files or meetings. This minimizes the noise for everyone else while keeping those involved in the loop and heavily documented when really needed.
6. Be consistent with your messaging.
Finally, eliminate confusion by being consistent with what you communicate with the rest of your team. It doesn’t just mean reinforcing instructions you previously relayed, but ensuring your overall messaging aligns with your company’s values, mission, and vision.
Empower every member of your team by communicating their purpose in the company clearly. Help them understand how their individual role contributes to the collective goal. Start by providing clear job descriptions. Keep them engaged by acknowledging their efforts—and how their contributions help the company today and in the future.
Workplace Communication: A Fine Balance
From finding the balance between under- and over communicating, to determining the mix of communication styles and tools that work for everyone, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to workplace communication. Finding strategies that suit the workplace requires some experimentation.
That said, you can begin by spotting the tell-tale signs of poor communication—whether that’s a dip in productivity, morale, and finances. If your workplace shows these signs, you can quickly pivot your approach to small but effective changes.