Today’s average office environment does not exactly suffer from a lack of communication channels. A nearly constant drip-drip-drip of emails, Slack exchanges, text messages, video calls, and impromptu hallway conversations can easily overwhelm. Not only is bouncing back and forth between communication channels stressful, it can be incredibly inefficient and time-consuming.
Picking the right channel for workplace communication can help ensure that your team keeps running on all cylinders. Is the message you’re sending best delivered via Slack, email, or — gasp — in person? Use these suggestions to untangle communication lines and keep your team focused on the task at hand rather than attempting to decipher your message.
1. Use the Right Tech Tools
Many workplace communication issues can be addressed through the thoughtful implementation of the right tools. If you want to stop answering the same questions over and over, implement a company wiki. This software solution can contain nearly all the information your team will ever need to access, all 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 needn’t waste time spent sifting through lengthy email chains and direct messages. Instead, communication is project-specific and tracked within the software.
Nearly all platforms allow system administrators to assign roles to each user to help avoid confusion and streamline productivity. Managers can map out project details and assign tasks to specific roles, avoiding email entirely. As soon as assignments are made, the team can get straight to work.
2. Improve Meeting Habits
Research suggests that up to 15% of the time spent in an hour-long meeting is wasted just setting up the equipment. In fact, tens of billions of dollars are squandered each year on ineffective meetings. Lack of preparation, drifting from the agenda, and meeting more frequently than necessary are all virtually guaranteed to waste time and confuse teams.
The first step to addressing this waste is to reconsider how many meetings you hold. Some teams thrive with weekly or even daily meetings. More often than not, though, it’s better — and much less complicated — to replace meetings with effective communication throughout the day. (There’s a reason “This meeting could have been an email” is an increasingly popular catchphrase.)
Schedule meetings somewhat begrudgingly. Is there a better way to communicate? Can meetings be reserved for special events, training, or quarterly recaps?
The next step is to create consistent, clear practices around meetings. Provide an agenda that sets time limits on topics to be discussed and stick to it. Check a few hours in advance to make sure all key participants will be able to attend that day. If not, reschedule the meeting or cancel it.
3. Develop Communication Protocols
In the absence of a plan to direct communication traffic, channels will quickly become cluttered. Anyone who has stopped working to check a message that had absolutely nothing to do with them knows the impact this has on productivity.
Linear communication protocols are common in larger organizations. Employees are instructed to speak to their managers but are not given permission to “jump the line” and speak directly with board members or the CEO. Flat organizations such as startups and family-run businesses can come up with more relaxed, but still straightforward, communication protocols. This will help ensure that an employee question or comment will go — on the first try — to the person who can best address it.
4. Require Your Team to Share a Calendar
Another tech 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. When you can see a colleague is in a meeting, you won’t call their cell phone. You’ll also know to send an email they can respond to afterward rather than a Slack message that begs an immediate reply.
Look for an online calendar solution that can be easily shared and has scheduling links. Scheduling links allows everyone on your team to share their availability with co-workers and clients. This virtually eliminates those annoying back-and-forth emails as you try to coordinate schedules.
A shared team calendar can also record due dates and submissions, providing information that might otherwise generate an email or phone call. Any asset you use to cut down on short bursts of messaging will do wonders to declutter your communication channels.
5. Break Down Communication Barriers
Identify the communication problems within your organization. Are employees afraid to talk to you? Is a lack of camaraderie on the sales floor leading to miscommunications and frustrations? The first step is to uncover and track these issues without moving too quickly or assigning blame.
Encouraging team bonding outside the workplace tends to break down boundaries and help team members loosen up. Consider sponsoring a team dinner after hours or take the crew out bowling. Talking to each other more naturally outside of the office encourages better communication during the workday. Over time, employees will feel more comfortable addressing their questions and concerns with you as well.
Another way to break down communication barriers is to host a training seminar. The introduction of a new software package, for example, can provide a good opportunity to hold a workshop where communication protocols are reinforced. While being careful not to single anyone out, offer examples of poor communication side by side with an effective counterpart.
6. Promote Transparency
Transparency in the workplace promotes trust, collaboration, and accountability. Each of these attributes provides a boost to overall morale and dramatically improves communication.
The best way to promote transparency in the workplace is to start at the top. Strive to be consistently open with employees regarding policy changes, expectations, and company stability. If applicable, seek out opportunities for one-on-one time with every employee, while being careful to avoid the perception that you are micromanaging.
Transparency promotes a healthier, happier workplace. Your employees will communicate far better in an environment where they feel safe and included.
7. Review Hiring Practices
By assessing communication skills as part of your standard hiring practices, you can frequently nip future communication issues in the bud.
In addition to assessing verbal communication during an in-person interview, ask all applicants to complete a short, handwritten Q&A on the spot. Depending on the position, you might even require a written exam. Do your best to screen applicants for the right balance of tangible skills and communication prowess.
Don’t wait until you can’t take it anymore to begin untangling workplace communication issues. It might be tempting to sidestep these as “not a priority” when a client project is making its way toward completion. While it’s fine to prioritize, don’t let communication snafus fall off the table, either. Unaddressed, they tend to come back to take a bite out of productivity.