No matter what industry you work in, it’s important that you keep the lines of communication open. This will help your teams to understand their roles and how their work fits in with the company’s overall goals. These communication lines can’t be one way. It’s also important that your employees feel free to offer feedback, share ideas, and express concerns.
The way we work and communicate with each other has changed significantly over the years. Many of you might find it hard to believe that in the early 90s most communications were done face-to-face or over landlines. Meeting agendas, memos, policies, and other documentation were all printed. Most team members typically worked in the same city in the same building. And email was the new, cutting edge of technology.
With the emergence of the internet, mobile technology, and 24/7 connectivity, companies have had to figure out how to communicate and work effectively with a larger and more diverse workforce that is often spread across multiple time zones. In this article we’ll discuss some strategies that can help your teams communicate and collaborate no matter where they are located.
Communication strategies for leaders
Here are some effective communication strategies that can work for leaders when talking with any type of employee and team in any industry.
Tell the truth
Your message needs to be as complete as possible. Sometimes there will be information that you can’t share. So let your team know that you can’t share it at this time. It’s also okay to tell your team that you don’t know or have specific information that they are looking for. Tell them you’ll share it when it’s available. People value honesty and it will build trust.
Choose the appropriate time to communicate
You might think it makes sense to wait until you have all the information before sharing with your team. But in reality, some of the information you need to share will be leaked by other people and might be inaccurate. That could lead your team to distrust and low morale. Always communicate what you know and what your team needs to know in a timely manner.
Make communications meaningful
If you don’t have any useful information to share, don’t share meaningless little tidbits with your employees that won’t help them get their job done. For example, years ago a manager called her team together to deliver a message from upper management. The message was, “We have a plan and the plan is good.” Details of that plan were to come later. Not very useful.
Communication between you and employees should align with your company’s mission, vision, and short- and long-term goals. If changes to policy or procedures are being made, make sure your team understands the reasoning behind these decisions. Have open discussions with your team to brainstorm ideas so you can align team processes, procedures, and goals with the changes the company has made.
You should have two-way communication. Don’t just talk “at” them—talk “to” them and encourage a dialogue. Let your team ask questions, clarify messages that might not make sense, and ask for feedback. Make your team members feel comfortable about asking questions and let them express opinions and concerns. It’s possible that they will have insight that you and upper management haven’t thought of.
Communication strategies in agile environments
The internet, the cloud, and other emerging technologies have forced businesses to find new ways to communicate and collaborate so they can get their work done faster. To keep customers satisfied, a company can’t afford to rely on the old ways of doing things even if they worked perfectly well in the past.
To meet increasing customer demands, many companies have adopted agile methodologies such as scrum, XP, kanban, and so on. These methodologies let teams develop and deliver functional, high-quality products in short incremental cycles. Each cycle lets the team improve on the previous release so they are continuously adding value and meeting customer needs.
To do this, agile development teams communicate regularly through short, daily status meetings. This helps everybody understand what has been done, what’s being done, and what still needs to be done. Open communication and active collaboration keeps everybody on the same page and focused on achieving business goals.
Communication strategies in the open office workplace
To facilitate communication and collaboration, agile encourages teams to work in a common area without walls or cubicles. The idea is that by working closely and seeing what everybody is doing, team members are more likely to communicate more often, share ideas more freely, and collaborate with each other to get work done faster.
This idea of an open office workplace without walls has spread beyond software development to other departments at many companies.
Managers and execs like the open office idea because they can fit more people into a smaller area, can see who is in the office, and save money on office furniture such as cubicle walls. The reason companies want their employees to embrace open office layouts is because of the following purported benefits:
- Better communication and idea sharing
- Increased team collaboration
- More productivity
- A happier and healthier workforce
- Better networking, especially in environments without assigned seating where employees can sit in a new location every day if they want to
But in reality, a lot of employees dislike open offices. Instead of facilitating communication and encouraging collaboration, surveys have found that:
- Employees are generally less productive because of constant noise and distractions around them.
- There is less collaboration because employees are sensitive to distracting other people sitting near them. So conversations are shorter than they probably need to be.
- Employees have fewer face-to-face interactions, preferring to use email and messaging rather than talking out loud in front of other employees.
- Open spaces make employees feel too exposed. The lack of privacy and constant distractions make it hard for them to stay focused on work.
- Some employees are reluctant to share ideas or express their honest views and feedback. They tend to go along with the majority opinion even if it’s not the best option. So ultimately, collaboration and communication is based on the ideas of the few employees who are comfortable working in an open office layout.
Even with these problems, you can still help your employees to communicate, collaborate, and work effectively in an open office environment. Some strategies include:
- Group desks into smaller “neighborhood” pods, keeping team members together to encourage communication and collaboration.
- Assign employees to specific desks that they can “make their own.” Having their own space that they can decorate with family pictures and other personal items helps you employees to develop a sense of individuality.
- You can try to minimize distractions by designating “quiet work areas,” providing employees with noise-canceling headphones, or adopting library rules to keep voices low in the open areas. Be sure you provide private meeting rooms so teams can have open discussions as necessary.
- Be flexible and open to rearranging furniture to find a flow that works for everybody.
Communication strategies in a hybrid environment
The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 created some new challenges for most businesses. To stay open, many businesses allowed employees to work remotely.
As businesses reopened, they found that many employees like working from home. Many didn’t want to risk catching a variant of COVID by working in the office again—especially if they had been working in an open office environment.
This has led to the adoption of a hybrid work model. Some employees work in the office while others work remotely. And some employees want to work some days at home and some at the office. The hybrid model has created a challenge for effective communication for employees and management. You might want to try some of the following strategies to communicate with your hybrid teams.
- Use apps that can be accessed from anywhere. Your hybrid team will rarely be together in the same place. Use cloud-based apps like Lucidspark and Lucidchart to facilitate collaboration in brainstorming sessions, documenting standard processes and procedures, creating org charts, drawing workflows, and more.
- Centralize your communication platform. Too many different communication platforms can result in information being lost or overlooked. Centralize communication to a single platform for easy documentation, storage, and access.
- Keep everybody synchronized. Hybrid teams might work in different time zones, which can cause scheduling problems. You should be able to schedule a short, daily meeting where the team can sync up and see what work has been done, what is being done, and what needs to be done.
- Make all team members feel included. Always ask for feedback from your remote workers. Let them make decisions and give them team lead positions where appropriate.
- Include video links on meeting invites. Whether team members work in the office or remotely, include a link to video conferences so your remote team members always feel like they are an important part of the meeting.
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