HR & Management

Finding ways to remedy the scourge of poor communication practices

6 min read

21 November 2017

Easy and frequent employee communication has long been seen as a cure-all for companies struggling with workplace collaboration and productivity – and technology is viewed as the elixir for ensuring effective contact between workers.

Indeed, although communication applications the likes of Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype have typically been used in a social context, in recent years such applications have gained popularity in the workplace – bringing with them the promise of streamlining communications by reducing lengthy, and often confusing, email chains.

Businesses adopt them with the belief that they will facilitate collaboration and keep employees and teams in constant contact with each other. But unfortunately, the reality is that employees are being subjected to an “always on” culture in which they are constantly being flooded with an endless stream of meeting requests, updates and alerts.

As a result, a modern workplace malady – “Communication overload” – has broken out in offices across the globe as workers struggle under the weight of clusters of unfocused messages, which prove hurdles to efficient employee collaboration and declining productivity.

Clarizen recently conducted a survey of 300 companies around the world to gain deeper insight into workplace communication and productivity. One of the most troubling findings was that only 16 per cent said that productivity levels were “Excellent”, which was compounded by 81 per cent saying attempts to improve workplace communication had not inhanced productivity.

Any forward-thinking business is constantly looking for new ways to maximise productivity, so it’s little surprise that many have succumbed to the temptation to adopt a range of tools and practices that promise to boost employee communication. What our survey proved was that workplace communication apps often actually complicate employee interaction and hamper productivity.

The survey found that in the past year, companies deployed one or more of the following communication tools to improve productivity:

  • Skype (39 per cent)
  • Microsoft Teams (14 per cent)
  • Google Hangouts (eight per cent)
  • Slack (seven per cent).

What the results confirmed is that without solid communications infrastructure that provides a clear framework for exchanging information in a business context, workers get lost trying to navigate their way through a maze of poorly linked tools, practices and systems – which often actually results in increased delays and higher costs.

As enticing as communication tools are in terms of user experience, simplicity and delivery, it is quickly becoming apparent that they are not being used effectively to support business efficiency or they are simply not compatible with the workflow of most companies.

A result from our survey is that communication overload is rampant in the modern workplace. It is symptomised by too many meetings that lack a clear agenda, an abundance of irrelevant documentation, unnecessary emails, notifications which cause distraction and too much non-work-related chit chat that used to be confined to the water cooler – often spread via an array of unconnected communication platforms.

Businesses need to rethink the common approach of simply introducing social communication channels – with different teams or divisions often using different apps – in order to boost productivity.

The fact is many employees struggle to manage the relentless stream of new appointments, messages and notifications. What’s more, platforms used to reach employees anytime, anywhere and on any device, quickly lead to team members displaying signs of communication related fatigue.

Instead, businesses need to focus on streamlining communications by employing an end-to-end collaborative platform that focuses the exchange of relevant messages and enables teams to track and feed into ongoing activity – thus promoting genuine efficiency and giving a tangible boost to productivity.

The following are key remedies for businesses looking to tackle a breakout of communication overload:

  • Provide a communication tool that ties workplace tasks to business functions and improves the coordination of workflow.
  • Integrate existing tools, such as Slack, with a more comprehensive collaborative platform that ensures communications align with tasks, deadlines, budgets and project updates.
  • Employ an end-to-end communication tool that provides full visibility across the full range of key deliverables, so employees can keep up-to-date, focused, while avoiding unnecessary catch-up emails, calls or meetings.
  • Adopt a system that automates project checkpoints and updates, so employees will spend less time following-up on and assessing what is going on and more time completing actual work.
  • Deploy a collaborative platform that updates information in real-time and provides holistic view of progress on tasks, resources, deadlines and other key deliverables.

Communication overload is a serious condition that is detrimental to true collaboration and productivity. However, it can be alleviated by ensuring all communication tools and practices employed in the workplace aim at efficiently exchanging information in a business context – the result being more effective collaboration, greater business agility and, in turn, increased productivity.

David Goulden is product director at Clarizen

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