With good communication, we can share our thoughts, solve problems, and spread ideas. Companies that have robust communication strategies will likely see more favorable outcomes. In contrast, those struggling with their communication strategies will probably find it challenging to innovate, drive profit, improve their brand reputation, and keep employees and customers happy.
But, the truth is, we can all use a slight improvement in how we approach communication. These strategies can help.
The importance of improving workplace communication
There are many reasons why it’s essential to improve communication in the workplace constantly. Though these reasons might vary from one company to the next, most of us can benefit from understanding what communication continues to do for a business:
- It helps create better productivity and outcomes
- It allows for quick onboarding
- It helps improve culture and workplace happiness
Improving workplace communication also keeps your business ahead of the competition. “Companies with effective programs for communication and support are 3.5 times more likely to beat out their rivals, while well-informed employees outperformed their peers by 77 percent”, according to Teamstage.io.
13 strategies to improve workplace communication
When you think about improving communication, remember to think about how these strategies will work remote, in-person, both, or neither. It may take some trial-and-error, and don’t be afraid to get creative.
1. Create a safe space for communication
First and foremost, your staff requires a safe space to communicate. This means that they feel comfortable being able to share their thoughts without facing any repercussions. Having an HR team in place and a hierarchy of sorts can help ensure the message is received and addressed, which should be in effect the moment new staff is onboarded. According to Drive Research, “Highly inclusive companies are more likely to hit their financial target goals by up to 120 percent.”
To achieve this: Companies should make it a priority to have safe spaces for communication as part of their policy and ethics. Not everyone is comfortable communicating in large groups, and since there are benefits to 1-on-1 checks with employees, this is one strategy to create safe spaces.
Additionally, companies should be striving to improve their DEI work by hiring a DEI professional to ensure all employees feel safe bringing their true selves to work. If this is not something you’ve invested in yet, don’t wait. In the meantime, you can meet with employees 1-on-1 to make sure they are feeling comfortable at work (more on this later).
2. Set clear expectations from day 1
From the start, employees should have absolute clarity on what they need to do, both in their role and within the company. They shouldn’t be left wondering what they need to do or who they need to go to, and if they are, they should know where to go to get that clarity. When they have clarity, employees can be more focused and feel more accomplished. This also helps make sure everyone is one the same page.
Onboarding meetings can certainly be repetitive, but they’re important and should be unique to each company. They should also be thorough. When new staff is hired, they should understand from day one the basics of new staff, knowing who to report to, who HR is, their colleagues, etc., to legacy staff knowing about any changes or policy updates, especially if they have a new role.
To achieve this: This can be accomplished by first ensuring new employees know who to report to, who HR is, their colleagues are, etc., to legacy staff knowing about any changes or policy updates, especially if they have a new role. Managers can meet with their employees when there’s a new assignment in the pipeline, discuss benchmarks, deadlines, to introduce new colleagues, etc.
3. Create a guide for how and where to communicate
According to Oak Engage, “74 percent of employees have the feeling they’re missing out on company news because the internal communication department is non-existent or doing a poor job.”
Especially in remote environments, it can be confusing for staff to know where to go or who to go to when they need to communicate. Be proactive by creating a guide that provides instructions on who to talk to for what type of conversation.
To achieve this: In creating a guide, think about the most efficient way for everyone to communicate and get answers to what they need. This could be thought of as an FAQ and/or created on a company intranet of sorts that’s simple to navigate, letting staff know where to ask questions, where to post information, what communication tools/channels to use for what, etc.
4. Show, not tell
Part 1: Teach the required communication skills: Communication is a two-way street, and providing staff with a safe space to communicate means that those on the other end need to be active and attentive listeners.
To achieve this: Be sure to train directors, managers, and anyone higher-up on their communication skills, because they’ll be the ones to set the bar and model appropriate and effective communication behavior for the rest of the workplace. This should be done proactively and frequently.
Part 2: Use specific examples when communicating: Telling someone what to do is a lot different than showing them, or at the very least, giving examples of situations that are easy to understand, apply, and relate to real-life work situations.
To achieve this: Always check for understanding before moving onto the next topic, and be mindful of staff members who may face challenges with language barriers, cultural differences that may play a role in comprehension, as well as disabilities. This can be done through effective instructional design and training courses.
5. Practice how to give and receive feedback
When hiring, most teams look for talent that understand how to give and receive feedback, depending on their role at the company. But, someone telling you in their interview that this is a strength of theirs isn’t always as obvious to you once they begin work.
That being said, most managers don’t realize that having an employee that can accept feedback is only half the battle; managers need to know how to give it, too. Giving and receiving feedback can happen in many different formats, whether it be weekly meetings, meaningful replies on project workflows, surveys, or consistent communication.
But, what’s more important is the how. Both positive and constructive feedback are integral in an employee’s engagement and productivity, and this feedback should be given often. Officevibe said, “43 percent of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week compared to only 18% of employees with low engagement.”
To achieve this: Facilitate training sessions on what’s considered appropriate feedback and how to give it. Feedback given should inspire growth, help employees feel their job is important, improve employee engagement, and help continue to build rapport among team members.
At the same time, the person giving the feedback should know their own role/purpose, focus on the behavior and not the person they are giving the feedback to, and be specific and timely while leaving room for questions. Also, be sure to document feedback so everyone is on the same page and you can always reference it later if needed.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on staff who need more help with this than others, and don’t be afraid to ask your employees how they prefer to get feedback, as not everyone internalizes it the same way.
6. Get comfortable with having hard conversations
Not all work communication is easy all the time. There are also circumstances in which hard conversations will need to be had. Whether this is providing somewhat rough feedback to a team member (remember; there’s still a way to do this appropriately!), or letting someone go, make sure your company has a way to do this that won’t result in burned bridges or angry Glassdoor reviews.
The good news is that according to Zippia, “85 percent of employees take more initiative when they receive feedback in the workplace. ” So, even if the feedback isn’t great in itself, it can go a long way if delivered correctly. These hard conversations can strengthen bonds, improve performance, and improve communication, potentially preventing things from falling off.
To achieve this: Train staff and have a guidebook for this, as well as hired professionals who know how to deliver bad news in a nice way. In addition to checking how you give feedback in general, take that a step further. When it comes time to have this hard conversation, choose a safe setting to deliver feedback privately, keep your emotions in check, and have notes prepared to prevent yourself from getting off track, while leaving room for questions.
Be mindful, too. If you know that your employee is going through something personal and this feedback isn’t urgent, it might be best to wait to ensure the feedback isn’t taken too personally.
7. Practice active listening
In addition to knowing how to effectively give and receive feedback, everyone at the company should strive to be an active listener; both to each other and with customers. Active listening is the actual practice of listening attentively, by paying attention to not just the words being spoken, but the intended message via verbal and non-verbal cues. By listening actively, you can then provide feedback and/or have a dialogue.
To achieve this: There are many ways to achieve active listening. To start, be sure to turn off distractions, be prepared to take notes, ask questions, and repeat back parts of the messaging in order to get clarification. This is the verbal aspect.
In the remote working world, this might be harder to achieve, especially if staff have their cameras off during meetings. But, simply implementing company-wide policies that allow everyone to both feel comfortable and heard, will ensure that being out of the physical office won’t impact the workplaces’ productivity.
This could entail having managers meet with employees after company-wide meetings to check the message was received, or encouraging employees to reflect on the meeting via a survey or follow-up conversations with managers. It could also be as simple as requiring staff to have their cameras on for certain meetings.
For the non-verbal aspect, bring it back to the basics: eye contact, facial expressions, repeating back what someone is saying, eliminating distractions during meetings, etc. Apollo Technical says, “Approximately 93% of effective communication is nonverbal, while spoken words account for only 7%.”
8. Set clear boundaries and expectations when communicating
Both managers and employees should understand the boundaries and expectations that exist regarding communication. This should include when it’s appropriate to communicate (i.e. are weekends appropriate? Is it okay to send a message to someone in a different time zone outside their working hours?) as well as when managers and colleagues should be expected to respond to a question or complete a task from an employee.
There shouldn’t be such extreme double-standards in place when it comes to communication. Employees are responsible for letting managers and colleagues know when they can reasonably get to something, and the same goes for managers.
To achieve this: Whether these are somewhat informal or actually set-out by the company, it’s important that these boundaries and expectations are respected. To do this, model it. If you turn off email alerts at 5 PM, let your employees know. And, staying on top of this can really improve the work-life balance, which can impact the company’s productivity and turnover rate. This means that even in circumstances in which teams use live-chat during work, encourage the use of email or other channels when something does not need to be so instantaneous.
But, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Have an escalation process if something is mission critical and other channels have been tapped out. For instance, there should be guidelines on who to contact and how to contact in case of emergency/urgency. And, beyond that, making sure staff know the protocol for sending such important messages (i.e., should they put “urgent” in the subject-line?) goes back to making an employee’s role clear from the get go.
9. Create and send agendas before meetings
Whether in the physical office or the remote workplace, meetings are sometimes just a way of life. But, they shouldn’t be the “this-could-have-been-an-email” meeting. Before a meeting, everyone needs to be on the same page to understand the purpose of a given meeting. This not only gives everyone enough time to prepare their own questions, but to make sure how this meeting is relevant to the work they’ll be doing.
To achieve this: Harvard Business Review quotes a report from Meeting Science stating, “...content at the start of an agenda receives disproportionate amounts of time and attention, regardless of its importance. The implication is clear: put your most compelling questions at the start of the meeting.”
Project managers should send out detailed agendas that include a bulleted list of what’s to be discussed in the meeting, how long the meeting is planned for, who will be speaking when, etc. And be sure to give everyone an opportunity to check their schedules in order to make sure they can attend.
10. Take notes and follow up after meeting
Note-taking might seem old-school for some people, but the practice can provide an extremely helpful way to stay engaged, recall important information (as well as details you may have forgotten!) later, and get alignment/understand how things and conversations connect. It can also help you keep organized, have a record, and realize whether or not something has not been discussed that was supposed to be discussed.
Taking notes is a great way to see if there are any gaps in the conversation or anything that’s unclear or needs to be revisited, which comes in handy if internet connections break up or important members of the team have missed the meeting due to a conflict or being absent.
To achieve this: To start, every manager and employee should have a process and system for taking notes, including knowing what note-taking tools to use (and ensuring staff knows how to use these tools). For 1-on-1 meetings, you don’t always need to use anything fancy; sometimes an old-fashioned pen and paper does the trick. And, if note-taking isn’t your strong-point, start with practicing active listening and jotting down key points and details. Though, certain technology tools may actually help you become a better note-taker.
That being said, for bigger meetings, there should always be an assigned note-taker (this person can rotate) who can be trusted to take legible and organized notes that can be sent out to the whole team immediately following a meeting.
Additionally, meetings (especially remote meetings) should be recorded and sent out afterwards so that anyone who needs to review it, can. It’s a very good idea to timestamp these recordings at different talking points to avoid time wasted watching the entire video to find one point, and/or have them transcribed (this works well for client meetings, third-party meetings, and interviews).
11. Schedule recurring 1-on-1 meetings between managers and employees
Part 1: Managers & employees: Communication is something that needs to be continuous, even if comprehensive communication guidelines are already in place. One way to ensure nothing falls through the cracks, discussing projects, getting questions answered, and giving and receiving feedback, is for managers to schedule recurring 1-on-1 meetings with their employees.
Culture Amp says, “Eighty-seven percent of millennials value growth and professional development in a job and 1-on-1 meetings are the perfect time to discuss personal and professional growth.” And, This goes back to creating a safe space for communication.
These meetings can be a mix of personal and work. Employees may, for instance, have something they need to discuss with you where they don’t want others present, and building that rapport and relationship through weekly meetings (or standing meetings on a consistent basis) can help ensure their comfortability.
To achieve this: Managers should keep a running log of items to reference, and keep up with meetings even if your employees are killing it. To do this, everyone needs to come to a meeting with an agenda, even if there’s nothing really urgent or pressing.
And, when there’s nothing really pressing, a nice trick to get employees talking is for managers to ask "What's on your mind?" to give employees space to bring things to the forefront of the conversation. Then, based on that conversation, work together to create action items and track progress. Not only will this help improve workplace communication, but it will give you something to talk about and reflect on for the next meeting!
Part 2: Employees & employees: And, what about employee 1-on-1? Most of us are used to conversing virtually (in the office and remotely), and this doesn’t need to happen only when discussing work matters. Team members should have a way to connect “outside of work” as well, whether this is virtual or in-person to build relationships and comfortable conversation habits among team members.
To achieve this: Team members who want to just chat during the day should not only be given permission to do so, but should be encouraged. And, by providing them with channels to do this in a comfortable way is crucial to fostering strong relationships at work. Virtual happy hour? Random coffee chats between employees that facilitate team interactions. Why not?! This considered, keep in mind that some employees may want to spend time with their family after work, so make sure that’s respected while not leaving them out.
12. Use the right communication tool for the job
Having good communication is something that’s done at the human-level, but it’s also important that your workforce has the right communication tools at their disposal in order to get this done. Companies should have a plethora of various communication tools available, but most importantly, the tools should make sense for your company.
What does this mean? Well, there's a time and place for each type of tool based on the business you're in and the way your team works. According to Slack—which is great both in the office and for remote desktop teams, for example—“About three-fourths of workers, or 74%, prefer the ability to send real-time messages at work when asked about the range of communication tools available to them, from email to in-person conversations.”
On the other hand, your field workers might not feel the same way; they may prefer texting, especially if they aren’t at a computer screen all day long and phone calls might be hard to do (i.e. construction teams who have a lot of noise in the background). Citing Text Request, SHRM says, “80 percent of professionals currently use texting for business purposes and nearly 70 percent of employees think texting should be used for interoffice communication.”
As you can see, what works for one business might not work for another.
To achieve this: To choose the best communication tools for business, start by evaluating what’s right for your team(s). Think about what goals you are trying to accomplish with the tool, how you’re currently communicating (or, what tools you’re already using), and what is the expected user behavior. For instance, will your employees answer a phone call if you utilize a voice tool? Of course, you can always ask them what their needs are instead of guessing! Be willing to innovate and pivot to meet your workforces’ demands.
13. Don’t have too much of a good thing
Communication is all about finding the right balance. It’s important to have the right communication tools and communication guidelines and practices in place, but don’t overwhelm your staff, either. This means don’t try to have too many tools in place as this can lead to distractions and actually take away from productivity.
To achieve this: Even though video calls could theoretically be held on Google Meet, Slack, and Zoom, pick one, and have a backup in the event that platform isn’t working. At the same time, feel free to start eliminating channels that you aren’t utilizing, and put those saved resources into the tools you are.
Additionally, make sure that contact between and among team members is done on the least amount of channels, to avoid anything being overlooked or repeated. I.e., don’t start a conversation on Slack and start it again on email, unless both parties are on the same page in terms of continuing the conversation elsewhere.
The bottom line
Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship(s), and this is true in the workplace as well as any other aspect of life. Companies who want to be successful, innovate, drive revenue, and have brand loyalty from their customers will need to prioritize communication across the workplace. This means constantly evaluating how current communication channels are performing, understanding how staff feels about communication, and working to improve no matter what.
All this considered, having the right communication tools also goes a long way. Tools that make communication easier for everyone can help increase productivity.
Learn how Textline can help in your mission to improve communication across your workforce continuously.