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Virtually all work today involves sharing information and communicating with others. Whether it’s offering performance feedback to employees, taking a phone call, attending a team meeting, or sending emails about company updates, 97% of workers say communication affects their work tasks (and the ability to do their job) every day.
So what is effective communication, and how might it look in your workplace? Good communication is about connection and making sure relevant information reaches the right team members at the correct time. It’s about making sure everyone feels able to ask questions and communicate effectively to get their work done, and ensuring that workers feel supported.
Why Improve Your Workplace Communication?
Effective communication in the workplace can bolster company culture by ensuring that information is flowing smoothly and that everyone feels engaged and has the the resources they need to do their job. This can translate to better business outcomes: using social technology, workplaces who improve communication can see productivity rise by up to 25%.
What Are Some Obstacles to Great Team Communication?
Only 7% of workers polled in the U.S. agreed that communication at their organization is open, timely, and reliable. Communication problems can stem from several factors, including:
- Changing workplaces: The post-2020 workplace has a greater focus on deskless, hybrid, and remote employees. Currently, about 9% of the workforce is working largely remotely, and 11% are fully remote. 2.7 billion workers, or about 80% of the global workforce, are deskless. These employees have different communication needs. They may be very independent when working on tasks, and may need more information—possibly delivered asynchronously—to do their job.
- Different communication needs among team members: Managers may prefer email while some workers may favor in-person talks. Some employees may want to get more personalized feedback while others may want more general information about job expectations. Some team members want lots of communication while others prefer minimal contact, with information delivered on a “need to know” basis. Communication preferences on a team can vary depending on personality, age, background, culture, and other factors, and it can be hard to please everybody all of the time.
- The need for difficult conversations: One big challenge to communication in the workplace is when a manager or leader needs to have a difficult conversation. Whether it’s telling an employee that their performance review indicates a need for improvement or whether it’s communicating a need to reduce the workforce, conversations with bad news can cause employees to feel disengaged or upset. When this type of communication is not handled sensitively, workers may become unhappy and may even want to leave an organization.
If you’re interested more in communication problems that can occur in the workplace, Connecteam has a troubleshooting guide to help you find solutions.
Let’s now examine how you can build strong communication practices at your company.
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How Can You Create Great Team Communication?
Effective communication in the workplace relies on creating a work environment where employees feel supported and where information and ideas flow correctly. There are ten ways you can foster this kind of communication at work:
Create Clear, Simple Communication Routes
If someone on your team needs a specific piece of information, do they know where to go or who to turn to to find it? Good communication begins with defining all the ways you liase with your team, whether that’s by chat, email, presentations, meetings, performance reviews, or anything else. Next, consider what you need to communicate. Do you need to help team members understand their schedules and shifts? Do you need to offer training and checklists to help workers do their job?
Chances are, good communication at your company involves many types of interactions. It can be helpful to make a list of all the information you need to share at your organization and how you currently communicate. If you’re using many communication tools and platforms, it can be helpful to streamline. A solution like Connecteam, for example, lets you develop schedules, offer training, chat with employees in a secure app, and more, all in one platform that can be accessed from anywhere your employees have a computer or mobile device. This way, your employees always know they can get all the information they need in one location. One system or a minimal number of systems mean fewer things get lost, and there is greater clarity around where employees can turn.
It can also be helpful to create graphics or a resource sheet where employees can look up where to find specific types of information. This way, there is a designated place your team can turn if they need to determine where to find an HR form, a specific online training resource, or who they need to speak to about a particular issue they’re having.
Encourage Two-Way Communication
The best form of communication is one that involves sharing and listening. Even if you have remote or deskless employees, take the time to ask for feedback and to meet in person or via video conferencing.
When you are communicating with your team, engage in active listening. This idea was first developed in 1957 by Carl Rogers and Richard Farson, and involves paying attention in an embodied, positive, and fully present way. With active listening, you can improve employee engagement by showing team members you are approaching your communication with focus, respect, and an open mind. You can practice active listening together as a team. This method involves:
- Putting away all distractions before engaging in two-way communication.
- Paying attention fully and listening to the person who is speaking.
- Withholding judgements and avoiding interrupting or speaking until the speaker has fully stopped talking.
- Allowing a moment to pass before replying.
- Checking in with your body to see whether you are having any reactions, such as a tightening of the shoulders, during the conversation. This can keep you from being reactive. If you notice your body tensing, give yourself an extra moment to breathe and then work to keep the communication pleasant and professional.
- Summarizing and clarifying what has been said by restating it in your own words, so you can be sure you understand what has been conveyed to you.
- Introducing your own ideas and responses only once you feel you have understood the ideas and perspectives of the speaker.
If you have deskless or remote employees, two-way communication relies on access. A secure app such as Connecteam Chat allows workers to contact you when they need to and allows you to practice active listening in online one-on-one chats and group chats.
Check in Regularly
Effective communication isn’t just about how you communicate, but also how often. You want to strike a balance so that you communicate often enough to make employees feel heard, supported, and engaged, but not so often that employees feel annoyed because their work tasks are interrupted by frequent meetings. To communicate effectively in a timely way, you’ll want to set up a few types of communication channels:
- Asynchronous channels: For everyday information, training, updates, and documents your team requires to do their jobs, have one online or in-person place where everyone can easily find what they need, when they need it. Every item should be clearly labelled and organized effectively so that your workers can find what they need with ease. Retire or archive older, outdated material so your team always has only what they need on hand.
- Real-time communication and collaboration: Company meetings, team meetings, and individual meetings may be needed to keep everyone updated, to announce big changes, and to collaborate on projects or give performance feedback. You may want to schedule real-time meetings quarterly, monthly, or more often, depending on the size of your team and your needs.
- Time-sensitive communication: Sometimes, urgent communication is needed about an outage, sudden rush deadline, or weather conditions that can affect work. Urgency can create stress, so try to reduce the number of messages requiring immediate responses if possible. If you do need to send something time-sensitive, consider a real-time communication system such as a chat app and send the message through multiple channels, such as email and through push messages, to make sure it reaches everyone who needs the important information.
Get Feedback About Company Communication
As you build your communication skills as an organization, get feedback about communication needs and styles. Ask your team about what they might want to see—more check ins, fewer check ins? Ask whether there are specific types of information or communication they need but aren’t seeing. Is everyone comfortable with the style of communication or are there still problems to address? While you may not be able to address everyone’s concerns, if you see a pattern emerge, you may want to make changes.
Most of all, you will want to regularly measure team communication. Are you seeing fewer mix-ups, less frustration, and more efficiency? Are fewer pieces of information falling through the cracks? To evaluate correctly, read our guide to measuring your company communication.
Make Communication Styles People-First
One way to communicate more effectively is to eliminate jargon and to make your communications, both in person and in text, more personable. Instead of using bullet points and fragmented phrases, use full sentences. Instead of using jargon like “paradigm shift” or “circle back,” use simpler and clearer language like “change” or “discuss again.” If you must use acronyms, spell them out first and include the acronym afterwards, like this: “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).” Writing with your audience in mind and employing language you would use with a professional contact can make your tone sound warmer and more engaging. It can also make your message clearer.
When communicating with individuals or teams, make your messages personal by checking in with the person you are contacting first. For example, if you’re starting a meeting with a team member, begin by genuinely asking “How are you?” and fully listening to the answer. Building rapport with authentic care for your team can make communicating easier, as you get to know your audience and their needs.
Work on Personal Skills Together as a Team
Collectively working on skills such as emotional intelligence, speaking skills, and writing skills can help you share ideas and information more effectively as a team. You can hire trainers to run sessions designed to improve your communication skills and establish guidelines for communicating together. Employee training applications enable you to create courses centered around communication skills and even track participation.
Create Inclusive Communication
Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers in the U.S. are required to make reasonable accommodations for workers living with disability, which means you may have an obligation to make your communication accessible. You can offer closed captioning on meeting recordings and offer written, online notes after speeches or verbal communication so all workers can access the information. The United Nations has an online guide full of additional ideas to make communication inclusive, and the ADA has an overview of effective communication.
Address All the Ways You Communicate
You might also want to think about inclusive and effective workplace communication by considering the four main types of communication:
Verbal communication, including calls, presentations, and interpersonal conversations
You can practice calls and presentations ahead and time and review these to make sure that none of the language excludes anyone. Offer slide decks or a written version of the presentation to allow all workers to revisit the information or refer to it as needed.
Written communication, including emails, letters, and reports
When writing, be aware of good writing etiquette: avoid all caps, for example, or excessive exclamation points. Always check over your material before you send it to ensure it doesn’t have errors or any expressions which may be troubling to some of your audience. For example, avoid using terms like “pow-wow” and “grandfathered in,” as they have roots in racial prejudice and may make some people feel excluded. Stay alert for any wording which may be racist, ableist, ageist, or otherwise harmful. Since language is always changing, it can be useful to consult a guide when writing; the American Psychological Association has a useful overview of inclusive language. If possible, have someone look over your written material for any issues before you share it.
When sending information through written word, consider how it can be accessed by someone with visual impairments. Is there software or an app which employees can use that reads written notes out loud? This can help not only those living with visual impairment, but also other team members. By having multiple ways in which to access information, employees can choose the way that works best and feels most comfortable for them.
Where appropriate, create living documents where you allow others to comment, add to, or edit the text. This allows for asynchronous feedback that gives everyone a chance to take part and provides team members with another communication option.
Visual communication, including videos and photos
When sharing photos and visuals, consider whether the image could cause offence. Are any jokes at the expense of someone else? If it’s a photo or video of everyone on the team, do you have everyone’s permission to share it?
When sharing visual communication, use closed captioning or a description of still photos to help those living with visual impairment. Doing this also helps anyone who is using a slower Internet connection and cannot easily look at images that are slow to load.
Address Non-verbal Communication Cues
Non-verbal communication, including your posture, body language, and facial expressions, accounts for 55% of your message, with only 7% comprised of the words you use. Yet, very few professionals are aware of the impression they may be making.
With permission from other participants, videotape meetings and presentations to evaluate your tone of voice, pitch, gestures, and body language. Get feedback from a coach or others on your team. Does your non-verbal communication make your message hard to understand or engage with?
Working with a coach can make you a more effective speaker. A media coach can also help you master body language, facial expression, and confidence for better verbal and non-verbal communication.
Be Aware of Your Own Internal Communication
Internal communication doesn’t often get discussed when we talk about company communication, but it can impact how you interact with others, sometimes in ways you may not be aware of. We all have a tendency to create “stories” about what we experience. For example, if someone has their arms closed, we may interpret this as someone being upset, even if that’s not the case. You can make this assumption without being aware of it, and your interaction with the other person can be affected by your subconscious interpretation.
It takes some practice to become aware of when you’re telling yourself stories. A good habit to get into when communicating with anyone is to frequently (and silently) ask yourself a few questions:
- What are the facts about this situation?
- Are they really facts, or assumptions?
- What story am I telling myself about this situation?
- Is the story I am telling myself true, or is there another possible explanation?
If you catch yourself telling yourself a story rather than sticking to the facts, it can be useful to assume the best intentions from others and then clarify. Sometimes, if you notice yourself getting offtrack this way, you can check in by saying something like this: “If I’m hearing you correctly, you mean. . .but I find myself interpreting things as . . . Could we clarify, please, to make sure I’m on the same page?” This direct approach can reduce miscommunication, which is why you might want to teach your whole team to adopt it.
The Last Word
Most of your day is probably spent either receiving information or sharing it with others. Crossed wires, dropped calls, and misinterpretations happen, but with effective communication techniques at your organization, you can be a workplace where team members experience clarity, timely information, and reliable resources when they need them.
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