How to untangle messy communication in the workplace
Today's average office environment doesn't exactly suffer from a lack of communication channels. The almost constant drop-drop-drop of emails, Slack exchanges, text messages, video calls, and impromptu hallway conversations can easily be overwhelming. Switching back and forth between communication channels is not only stressful, but can also be incredibly inefficient and time-consuming.
Choosing the right channel for communication in the workplace can ensure that your team continues to run on all cylinders. Is the best way to deliver the message you're sending via Slack, email, or gasp in person? Use these suggestions to untangle lines of communication and focus your team on the task at hand, rather than trying to decipher your message.
1. Use the right tech tools
Many communication problems in the workplace can be resolved by carefully implementing the right tools. If you no longer want to answer the same questions over and over again, implement a company wiki. This software solution can contain almost all of the information your team will ever need to access in one place. Keep it updated and it will be an invaluable asset.
You should also consider implementing project management software. When employees share a single platform, they don't have to waste time searching through long chains of emails and direct messages. Instead, the communication is project-specific and is tracked in the software.
On nearly all platforms, system administrators can assign roles to any user to avoid confusion and improve productivity. Managers can assign project details and assign tasks to specific roles, completely avoiding emails. As soon as orders are placed, the team can get to work immediately.
2. Improve your meeting habits
Research has shown that up to 15% of the time spent in an hour-long meeting is wasted just setting up the devices. In fact, tens of billions of dollars are wasted each year on ineffective meetings. A lack of preparation, deviations from the agenda and more frequent meetings than necessary are guaranteed to waste time and confuse teams.
The first step in eliminating this waste is to reconsider how many meetings you are having. Some teams thrive with weekly or even daily meetings. Most of the time, however, it's better – and much less complicated – to replace all day meetings with effective communication. (There's a reason "This meeting could have been an email" is an increasingly popular catchphrase.)
Be a little reluctant to schedule meetings. What better way to communicate? Can meetings be reserved for special events, training, or quarterly reviews?
The next step is to create consistent, clear meeting practices. Provide and stick to an agenda that sets deadlines for topics to discuss. Check a few hours in advance that all key attendees can attend that day. If not, reschedule or cancel the meeting.
3. Develop communication protocols
If there is no plan for routing communications traffic, the channels can quickly become cluttered. Anyone who has stopped reviewing a message that has absolutely nothing to do with them knows the impact it has on productivity.
Linear communication protocols are common in larger organizations. Employees are directed to speak to their managers, but are not given permission to “jump over the line” and speak directly to the board members or the CEO. Flat organizations like startups and family businesses can create more relaxed, yet uncomplicated communication protocols. This ensures that a staff question or comment gets routed to the person who can best answer it on the first try.
4. Ask your team to share a calendar
Another technical investment to consider is an online calendar for your team. An online calendar helps your employees better manage their own time, but it also improves communication. If you see a coworker in a meeting, don't call their cell phone. They will also know that you need to send an email that they can reply to later rather than a Slack message that requires an immediate response.
Look for an online calendar solution that is easy to share and has scheduling links. By scheduling links, all members of your team can share their availability with colleagues and customers. This virtually eliminates the annoying back and forth emails of trying to coordinate schedules.
A shared team calendar can also record due dates and submissions, and provide information that could otherwise generate an email or phone call. Any asset that you use to reduce short messaging bursts does wonders to relieve your communication channels.
5. Break down communication barriers
Identify the communication problems in your organization. Are employees afraid to speak to you? Does a lack of camaraderie lead to misunderstandings and frustrations on the sales floor? The first step is to uncover and track these issues without moving too quickly or assigning blame.
Promoting team loyalty outside of the workplace leads to boundaries being exceeded and team members loosening up. Consider sponsoring a team dinner after hours or taking the crew to bowling. Having a more natural conversation outside of the office promotes better communication during the work day. Over time, employees will feel more comfortable answering their questions and concerns with you too.
Another way to break down communication barriers is to hold a training seminar. The introduction of a new software package, for example, is a good opportunity to hold a workshop in which the communication protocols are strengthened. Offer examples of poor communication alongside an effective counterpart, without paying attention to someone being singled out.
6. Promote transparency
Transparency in the workplace promotes trust, collaboration and accountability. Each of these attributes increases general morale and improves communication significantly.
The best way to promote transparency in the workplace is to start at the top. Make an effort to be open to employees about policy changes, expectations, and business stability. If necessary, seek out one-on-one opportunities with each employee, avoiding the perception that you are micromanaging.
Transparency promotes a healthier and happier workplace. Your employees will communicate much better in an environment where they feel safe and included.
7. Review hiring practices
By evaluating communication skills as part of your standard hiring practices, you can often nip future communication problems in the bud.
In addition to assessing oral communication during a personal interview, ask all applicants to conduct a short, handwritten Q&A on site. Depending on the position, you may even need a written exam. Do your best to screen applicants for the right balance between specific skills and communication skills.
Don't wait until you can't take it anymore to solve communication problems in the workplace. It might be tempting to bypass this as "no priority" when a client project is on its way to completion. While it's okay to prioritize, don't let communication snafus slip off the table either. They come back unaddressed to affect productivity.