Table of contents
  1. Types of Informal Communication
  2. Benefits of Informal Communication
  3. Disadvantages of Informal Communication 
  4. Examples of Informal Communication
  5. Conclusion

Informal communication is an exchange of information, either oral or written, that doesn’t fall within the traditional structures, methods, or hierarchies of the business. Examples include casual chats and watercooler catch-ups, as well as office gossip and discussing work in a more relaxed context. Colleagues can bond informally regardless of where they are on the chain of command, during or after working hours. As a complement to formal communication, informal communication supports a healthy company culture by letting employees be themselves and build relationships with each other.

Types of Informal Communication

Depending on how information travels across the organization, there are four main types of informal communication, collectively referred to as “the grapevine”.

Gossip chain

In a gossip chain, one person shares a piece of information with a group. For instance, an employee can use the online team chat to announce that they just got engaged.  In such cases, there tends to be an already established group that certain members can access. On top of digital channels, groups can also meet and talk informally at team meals, company parties, and other spaces.

Cluster chain

In a cluster chain, one person shares something with a group, then the group members pass it on to other groups. An example is a committee chair asking committee members to send an update across to their respective teams. Cluster chain communications work particularly well with a hierarchical structure, where information flows between supervisors and their teams.

Single-strand chain

In a single-strand chain, information is transmitted from one person to another in the company, on a one-to-one basis. For example, if a coworker’s birthday is coming up, colleague A may ask colleague B to sign a birthday card, then colleague B may ask colleague C, and so on.  This type of communication is particularly common among remote employees working in shifts with one or two other people, like drivers and field workers.

Probability chain

In a probability chain, information is shared on a random basis with an individual or group. For example, a note in the break room can announce that some coworkers are going to the local cinema after work, with no control over who sees the message. Messages passing through a probability chain aren’t limited to existing workplace relationships, so they can help build new connections, especially with introverted colleagues.

Benefits of Informal Communication

Encouraging informal communication within your team can be beneficial because it offers an alternative to the often rigid structures that managers put in place to maximize productivity. In fact, informality can increase productivity further when it results in more satisfied and socially fulfilled staff. Here are the top three benefits of informal communication:

Stronger workplace relationships

Communicating informally can bring people closer together, as they show their personalities, share their values, and find commonalities like hobbies or music preferences, thus building trust. Stronger relationships are also vital to improving collaboration in your company. In addition, if you understand what motivates a colleague, it will be easier to provide them with appropriate incentives.

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Increased productivity

Under the right circumstances, informal communication can help increase productivity. For example, if a team member is struggling with their tasks, an informal check-in can identify the issue more easily than a formal performance review. Often, a lack of productivity is linked to personal or family problems, which you might be able to address more sensitively and effectively via an informal approach.

Lower turnover

Employees are more open to sharing their struggles and hopes through informal channels. This gives managers opportunities to help them succeed when they might otherwise be unaware of problems until employees hand in their notice. Furthermore, a healthy level of informality can make people feel more relaxed and develop a greater sense of job satisfaction. All of this contributes to a lower staff turnover.

Disadvantages of Informal Communication 

Alongside the benefits of informal communication, you should consider its downsides, too. When communication fails to be supportive or productive, it can disrupt your company culture. Be aware of the following disadvantages of informal communication:


Sometimes, casual conversations and body language can lead to misunderstandings, because a message can mean different things to different people. For example, a comment intended as a joke might be interpreted as a racist or sexist slur by someone from a different background or with different life experience. In extreme cases, misunderstandings due to informal communication can be classified as harassment.


Disinformation refers to cases when false information is deliberately shared among coworkers. An example might be spreading rumors about whether certain team members are in a personal relationship with each other. Rumors can be very damaging, not just to the people targeted, but to the cohesion of the team as a whole, and it’s best to have an HR process in place for discouraging them.

Missed tasks

Communicating business matters in an informal setting can result in missed tasks, thus reducing productivity. For instance, you might ask a coworker during after-work drinks to pass on an important message to a manager the next day. There is a risk that such tasks could be overlooked or forgotten, so it’s always best to make sure they’re reinforced via a formal channel, such as an email message.

Examples of Informal Communication

Informal communication occurs whenever there is an absence of company-specific structures and formal language. Here are some of the most common examples:

Instant messaging

Many remote workers use instant messaging to chat with team members, whether on internal communication apps or personal ones, like WhatsApp. Informal communication could include messaging a group to ask for the WiFi password, or continuing a one-to-one conversation about an upcoming movie with a colleague. Asking a work-related question in an informal manner also counts—for example, “Any idea if we’ve got Monday off?”

Coffee breaks 

Whether your setting is a hospital, construction site, or restaurant, coffee breaks can be great bonding opportunities throughout the day and can contribute to job satisfaction and well-being. For 5-10 minutes, team members take a mental break from work and catch up on more personal topics such as family, vacations, and workplace gossip.

Team lunches

Team lunches can be organized as internal events by management, and can be a valuable opportunity to build cohesion. Employees can also mingle across departments on a day-to-day basis in the company canteen. This is a chance for them to speak to people they don’t directly work with, find out more about other business areas, and understand their own roles in a broader context.  


Informal communication occurs outside typical company structures such as chains of command. Examples include discussing work-related topics in informal ways, such as asking for the WiFi over a team chat or bonding on a more personal level with new people over a team lunch. Alongside improving productivity and lowering staff turnover, informal communication helps build relationships in the workplace, leading to more satisfied and relaxed employees. However, you should find ways to prevent disinformation, which can be damaging to your business. You should also follow up on informal discussions via formal channels to ensure key tasks don’t get missed.