Communications is a perennial thorn in the side of many organizations. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard you try, the report card still says there’s room for improvement. And yet we all know if we can improve communications in the workplace, productivity, output and company culture all stand to benefit.
The pace of technological change makes it hard to keep on top of the latest digital tools designed to make communication easier. And while technology certainly has a part to play, traditional face-to-face communication is still important.
Workplace communications take place at the organizational level and also on the individual level – especially in the relationship between manager and employee. For a comprehensive look at how to improve communications in the workplace, check out the following 10 top tips.
How To Improve Communication At Work
Audit Communication Methods
Do you know what the lines of communication are in your business? Or have these communication methods simply evolved over time without much central oversight? Before you can determine how to improve communication in the workplace, it’s essential to know the current methods and what’s working well.
It’s likely you are already using some of these tools: email, messaging apps, video conferencing, staff briefings, newsletters, intranet software or social media. But which ones are the most effective? What methods suit your workplace dynamic best? Start by inviting staff to feedback about their preferences. Do an audit of communication methods. That way you will have a much better understanding of what’s a good fit for your business.
Develop Mechanisms For Two-Way Conversations
It’s surprising how many organizations make the mistake of seeing communication as being one-way traffic: Corporate messages are passed down through the company ranks but very little comes back up.
To be really effective at improving communication in the workplace, involve genuine two-way conversations with staff members. Senior managers need to actively listen.
Encourage an open-door policy where staff feel able to approach their supervisors. Promote this policy throughout your internal communication channels. Walk the talk via visible leadership in which managers interact with staff members, attend team meetings, listen to feedback. And importantly, loop back on the next steps.
In this context, digital communication tools have an important role to play. Wikis, blogs, intranet news feeds, instant messaging apps and social intranet features enable management to develop genuine conversations.
Like many companies, UK-based recruitment consultancy Kenect Recruitment, experienced communication issues. With 14 regional offices, developing two-way conversations between management and a dispersed workforce was a challenge.
“We wanted a digital platform that could bridge the communication gap between the directors and staff, as well as providing our employees with quick and easy access to the information and resources they need,” advises Kenect’s Managing Director, Jason Whittenham.
For Kenect the perfect solution was an intranet platform. The intranet’s integral corporate and team news blogs – alongside a comprehensive content management system – have led to more open and transparent relationships with staff. The end result has been more efficient and effective working – and a noticeably improved company culture. Read more about Kenect’s intranet experience.
Publish A Regular Newsletter
Tried and tested, newsletters are an enduring technique to improve communication in the workplace. As well as being a vehicle for updating staff on important news and events, a newsletter is also a good way to build a strong company culture. Traditional, printed formats have been replaced with visually-striking online versions incorporating a variety of media for maximum appeal.
Let’s look, for example, at a healthcare organization with around 300 staff. Their communication challenges are around shift-workers, non-desk employees and siloed teams. For this organization, message cut-through relies upon ease of access and quick-to-grasp content. Instead of an email from the CEO, a vlog could be more effective (sent direct to mobiles) at reaching those working irregular hours and non-desk roles.
In addition, to help break down information silos, include success stories about joint working and collaboration. Profiling the work of other teams or individuals in a special feature are also useful ways of developing a common sense of purpose and building connections between teams.
The healthcare industry is constantly changing. New regulations and government initiatives, variations in compliance reporting, an internal restructure … staff must be informed as well as know about best practice. An online newsletter ensures that all employees receive the same timely and consistent messages. Include bite-sized snippets of text with an option to click through for more detail. And using lots of graphics, videos and diagrams will make even dense information more accessible and gives it instant visual appeal.
For staff who telecommute or work non-desk roles, mobile technologies are an essential line of communication. Businesses need to ensure these staff members feel as connected as head office-based staff.
Certainly for Idaho State Lottery and its dispersed, mobile workforce, internal communications was a big issue. “We used email as our main communication tool but found that it wasn’t working for us anymore,” explains Jennifer Quinno-Miller, Management Assistant/Human Resources. The ability to securely share information with staff out in the field was another key issue. After extensive research, an intranet platform was the mobile solution selected by Idaho State Lottery. As well as being an important communication vehicle, the intranet is also the central hub for all the company’s information and data needs. “Staff can directly and securely source and access anything they need, even if they’re away from the office,” says Jennifer.
Implement Intranet Software
Today’s diverse workplaces call for flexible and versatile communication methods. Mobile-optimized and with in-built two-way communication channels such as blogs, wikis and online newsletters, intranets offer businesses that all-important versatility and flexibility. But there are other business benefits too, summed up by Jessica Fisher from RWR Group:
“We thought it would mainly address the communication need. But it has centralized all our business processes in one location. We use it as a central library of information with all our how-to guides, policies and processes, as well as HR forms”.
How Managers Can Improve Communication In The Workplace
Strategic corporate communication is only one part of the story. Effective workplace communication really starts with the manager-employee relationship. Here are our top communication tips for managers.
Set Up Weekly Or Monthly 1:1 Meetings
Prioritize regular catch-ups with your team members. Face-to-face communication is still important – even in the digital age. 1:1 meetings are a good way to discuss how work is going, identify any roadblocks, celebrate successes and communicate corporate news. It doesn’t always have to be a formal meeting. In fact, taking time away from the office and getting together at say a coffee shop is often more effective. This is also an option for remote working or non-desk staff. And if the geographical distance involved makes regular face-to-face communication impossible, then video conferencing apps are the next best thing.
When work is super busy, it’s tempting to cancel regular catch-up meetings with your staff. However, this is frustrating and annoying for employees. It can easily send the wrong message about how much you value team members. Do your best to avoid canceling these important meetings.
Communication isn’t a one-way process. A meaningful dialogue involves actively listening to what your team members have to say. Make sure you give the conversation your full attention – turn your phone off and let others know you are unavailable for the duration of the 1:1 meeting. Ask questions for clarification, keep a note of your discussions and be sure to follow up on any action points.
The same approach applies to team or departmental meetings. Supplement regular team meetings with surveys and polls to encourage participation and feedback from staff. These are also a great option for reaching out to the telecommuters, freelancers and non-desk workers in your team.
You could take this a step further by implementing a staff suggestion scheme. A traditional but still effective option, it’s possible to replicate the suggestion box with a virtual one on the intranet. Allowing employees to share their views, concerns or insights sets the right environment of openness and approachability.
Review The Layout Of The Workplace
Is the setup of your office enabling or hindering effective communication? The design and layout of the workplace can have a big impact on internal communications. Separate offices and small cubicles – while keeping staff focused and free from distractions – can act as a barrier to collaboration. Departmental silos are often the result.
On the other hand, a more open-plan design that includes a centralized social hub – based around the water cooler or office kitchen – can facilitate communication between teams.
A mix of open plan, collaborative project spaces alongside private cubicles for 1:1 meetings and focused work offers the best of both worlds.
Be Clear About Expectations
One of the major blocks to communication is a lack of clarity around role expectations. Role expectations is different from a job description which merely lists responsibilities rather than how a team melds together. Role expectations can be set around a project team, a specific task or even how the employee fits into the big corporate picture.
Communication can quickly break down when people don’t fully understand their role and what’s expected of them. As the manager, it’s your job to make sure staff have role clarity. Make it clear what the employee needs to do to be successful. Be upfront about the metrics you are using to assess performance. Set clear terms of reference, accountabilities, and goals for any project teams so there is clarity from the outset.
The transparency and strong sense of direction will enhance overall organizational communication.
Encourage And Embrace Feedback
Communication is an evolving process that requires constant review and reflection. As a manager, it’s important to embrace and encourage staff to feedback on your performance as a communicator. After all, the only way to improve is to act on constructive feedback.
Use the regular staff 1:1s to ask for feedback. Alternatively, use the intranet’s surveys and polls function to find out what staff really think about workplace communication both on the managerial and corporate level. Make it anonymous and you will be more likely to receive honest feedback. Furthermore, review and reflection should be an ongoing process throughout the year and not just an annual exercise.
Improving Communications In The Workplace
So, what’s the bottom line? Well, the key to improving communication in the workplace is having a variety of channels in place. A mix of traditional print or face-to-face options alongside digital tools is more likely to engage with today’s diverse workforce. Communication styles and preferences will vary by employee, influenced by their location, status and working hours. A multi-pronged solution will deliver the best outcomes.
And when it comes to a flexible, versatile solution that will support managers as well as corporate communication, an intranet platform is hard to beat. Utilizing pre-built templates, an intranet is super easy to set up and manage.