The last number of years have brought about drastic changes in the way the world of work operates. With that, workplace communication has also transformed. We are now in a world of working from home, mobile workforces, and de-centralized workplaces. So, it is now more important than ever to have strong workplace communication processes. Of course, there are a lot of challenges that come with workplace communication, so navigating the space isn’t easy. Luckily, we’ve been helping organizations improve their communications for over 20 years. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide that will allow you to up your communication game, and help your organization thrive.
What is Workplace Communication?
Workplace communication is the means and processes that facilitate the exchange of important information between business owners, managers, and employees in the workplace. While this may sound simple, it can be a very complex issue. A workplace communication strategy covers how communications are handled, as well as how they are received and understood by employees. It is connected to other important elements of workforce management including engagement and company culture.
The Importance of Workplace Communications
Many organizations fail to understand just how important workplace communication is. In fact, more than 60% of companies do not have an internal communications strategy. However, effective workplace communications can lead to a range of benefits;
- Improved productivity
- Increased profitability
- Improved employee engagement and motivation
- Strong, positive workplace culture with open communication
There is a lot of research to back up how important workplace communications are. Employees who feel more informed about their organization outperform their peers by up to 77%! This makes total logical sense when we break it down. When an employee has all of the information required to perform their tasks, and when they completely understand that information, they can perform their task to their highest standard. Without this information, or if a miscommunication occurs, mistakes can happen and jobs can be left incomplete.
Employee Communication Tools
Just like most elements of workforce management, there are tools and software out there to help. There are those that focus solely on workplace communication and those that provide further functionality. These tools can be further categorized by how their specific communication function – planning, collaboration, task tracking and general workforce management.
These tools can help streamline both written and verbal workplace communications, both of which are vital to success. Popular tools such as Slack, Teams, Zoom and Workvivo provide resources that facilitate both written and verbal communications. Video conferencing paired with chat and file sharing features are great to help with traditional desk jobs. However, there are other tools that provide more fitting features to mobile workforces and shift workers. These tools include features to communicate availability to work, expressing interest in shifts, and shift tasks/field reporting. It’s important to understand the workplace you are catering to when choosing communication tools.
Challenges to Workplace Communication
At the most basic level, the goal of workplace communication is to ensure understanding from all parties involved. In order for this to happen, 4 elements need to align.
– What the communicator means
– The words being said by the communicator
– What the recipient hears
– How the recipient interprets the message
Unfortunately, challenges and barriers can arise at any point in workplace communications. When you consider the number of variables involved in any sort of communication, it’s easy to see how these challenges arise. Participants may not share the same definition of key terms. Communicators may not say exactly what they mean. Recipients may not have the same context as the communicators on all matters involved. It can get confusing, right?
Assumptions are the greatest barrier to workplace communications. The reason for this is that they essentially conceal gaps in understanding. Let’s take a look at how to navigate and avoid assumptions and improve your workplace communication.
Don’t assume the clarity of your message
A communicator should always remember that what is clear to them, may not be clear to their audience. General or broad sweeping statements often lead to confusion and misinterpretation. If a manager states that “punctuality in the workplace is poor”, it might be difficult for employees to determine the specifics of what they are referring to. Is the manager referring to clocking in/out for shifts? Are they talking about breaks? Are they talking about task completion?
This is why it’s extremely important for communicators to be clear and quantifiable. This leaves no room for error and reduces the likelihood of miscommunication. This applies to both written and verbal communication. Poorly written communications create confusion, frustration, and even decreased productivity. Emails, updates, and other forms of written communication do not need to be complex. Use clear language, avoid ambiguity and re-read your messages to ensure they are clear and coherent. When messages are well communicated and properly understood, employees can thrive and avoid wasting time.
Don’t assume the receiver has all of the information
It’s quite common for communicators to assume that receivers have the same information as them. However, this is often not the case. To be on the safe side, we recommend that people assume that the people they are communicating to do not have the same context, background, or history on the issue. Of course, it’s important to avoid over-explaining or appearing condescending. There is definitely a balance to be found, and this might look different for every organization depending on the organization or industry.
Consider a nurse in a long-term care facility. It is absolutely vital that all information and context is provided in a hand-off to the next shift. If a nurse assumes that another nurse knows the medications/allergies that a patient has, it can lead to disaster. However, in manufacturing, for example, there are some assumptions that can be made at the handover of a shift. So, knowing what and when to communicate and providing context when possible is key.
Listening skills are as important as communication skills
The above tips focus on the assumptions made by communicators. However, listeners and recipients can take steps to improve their understanding. This involves becoming an effective listener and reader. When listening, people in the workplace should avoid interrupting the speaker, only ask questions when it is fitting to do so, and focus solely on listening where possible. Likewise, when reading workplace communications, people should ensure they read and understand each paragraph. They should ask all questions to gain clarification on any uncertainties. Finally, they should respond in a way that addresses all questions asked of them in correspondence. Let’s take a further look at how you can improve your overall workplace communications.
How to Improve your Workplace Communication
Below, we’re going to break down some general best practices for workplace communications. As well as these tips, it can be helpful to create a communication guideline/standard for your organization. Document them, and make them available to the whole team. They should be provided to new hires during the onboarding process and reviewed periodically.
Ensure all communication has a clear goal
When sending an email, making an announcement, or organizing a meeting, be clear in your mind what the goal of it is. Generally, in a workplace setting, the goal will be to inform/educate. It might also be to persuade or inspire. Knowing the core purpose of your message can help ensure that you communicate it effectively. It can also be helpful to provide some insight on your goal to your receivers. Openness and honesty provide further context to those receiving the message.
Simplicity is Key
We briefly touched on this earlier, but there is no need to make messages complex when they don’t need to be. Again, this can be a difficult balance to find. You want to be clear and concise while ensuring you’ve given all of the information. Essentially, you want to avoid extraneous detail that might confuse receivers. As Plato once said,
This is where that balance in simplicity is essential. When in doubt, provide definitions of essential terms, or any terms that might have different connotations. When using ambiguous words such as frequent, or regular, be sure to explain exactly what that means in that instance.
Encourage contribution & participation
Unfortunately, miscommunication occurs when participants feel unsafe, or unwelcome to participate. That goes for both communicators and listeners. When listeners feel as though their opinion is unwelcome, or they cannot contribute, they may not ask the questions they need to ask. In turn, that leads to errors and wasted times when mistakes occur and need to be corrected. All participants involved in the communication have a responsibility to create a safe space, and when it comes to workplace communication, that comes down to company culture. When employees feel safe, they will communicate effectively.
Finally, communicators should always ensure that the recipients of their message have a clear understanding of it. Team meetings, important announcements and in fact, all workplace communication should be followed up with a check to ensure the message is received and clear. An important part of that might be leaving time at the end for questions, or to summarize, or to ask if anyone is unsure.
So, as you can see, workplace communication is not straightforward. There are many elements involved, all of which can cause issues when misaligned. The various challenges that come with communication can lead to further issues in the workplace. When mistakes happen as a result of miscommunication, it leads to lost time, money, and effort in correcting them. Getting it 100% right can be difficult, but when business owners put the time into establishing clear standards and creating a safe space, it’s a start in the right direction.