Remember the telephone game, where a message is passed on from person to person and changes from one end to the other? It’s a fun game when you’re a kid. But in a work environment, challenges to communication can spell disaster for your organization’s productivity and employee engagement.
Diagnosing and improving workplace communication can be complex and tricky. But it’s not impossible. We’ll be looking at:
- How poor communication negatively impacts your organization
- The basics of effective workplace communication and why it matters
- Common workplace challenges to communication
- How organizations can start overcoming communications challenges
Let’s dive in.
How Poor Communication Affects Your Organization
First, let’s define what poor communication looks like in the workplace.
Poor communication occurs when there is a mismatch between what is meant, said, and heard.
Poor communication causes a ripple effect across many areas of operations, leading to:
Lower Levels of Employee Engagement
Poor communication can make employees feel disconnected from their colleagues, team, and management. They may have more difficulty understanding and meeting expectations, hitting targets, and knowing when their work is valued. As a result, they may become less motivated to get their best work done.
While seamless communication can go a long way towards creating a stable work environment, poor communication can cause stress that takes a toll on your workforce. Miscommunication can often lead to delays and extra work that causes employees to feel stressed and burnt out.
Customer Service Challenges
Poor communication doesn’t just affect employee morale. It changes the customer service experience, too. Customer-facing employees may not have all the information they need to deliver quality customer service. Plus, customers can tell the difference between a motivated employee and one that is stressed and disengaged.
Good communication facilitates collaboration between colleagues and teams, leading to more effective collaboration. Employees who have more opportunities to collaborate can solve problems more efficiently. That means fires get put out faster, systems improve, and productivity increases.
Why Is Effective Team Communication Important?
While team communication refers to the exchange of information and ideas within a team or organization, effective team communication means that exchange is working towards a common goal while minimizing roadblocks, delays, and miscommunication.
Solving communication challenges and creating an effective team Communication Plan can benefit your organization in several ways.
Boosts Employee Engagement
Employee engagement reflects the relationship employees have with the organization they work for. When employees have access to clear and convenient lines of communication, they are far more likely to feel connected to the work they’re doing. Effective team communication not only helps workers become better problem solvers, it also creates a culture of recognition that makes employees feel valued and appreciated.
Maintains Mental Health and Wellbeing
Poor communication can make employees feel undervalued and disconnected from their colleagues. With many workplaces transforming into a remote or hybrid model post-pandemic, high levels of connectivity are more important than ever. And for frontline teams distributed across multiple locations, effective communication is the lifeblood of operations. Lack of open communication, feedback, and recognition can negatively impact employee mental health and create a stressed out, disengaged workforce.
Creates Opportunities for Innovation
Effective team communication fosters open dialogue on an individual, team, and organizational level. Employees can give and receive feedback, problem solve, and feel like their contributions make a difference. This not only breaks down hierarchies and encourages bottom-up communication, but it also builds a transparent work culture where innovation is possible and welcome. Encouraging employees to share their ideas helps organizations innovate and make better decisions.
The Basics Of Effective Communication
Let’s dive a little deeper into what exactly makes communication effective. Here are 5 characteristics of an effective communication strategy:
1) Open Lines of Communication
When communication lines in an organization area open, employees at every level can reach and receive feedback from their colleagues and managers easily and in a timely manner. Mobile communication tools like Beekeeper, for example, enable real-time communication that maintains an open dialogue between frontline workers, allowing distributed teams to stay connected despite being spread out across different locations.
2) Active Listening
Active listening in the workplace goes beyond simply hearing employee feedback. It means showing employees that an organization values what they say and that their contributions make a difference. Active listening can take place on a one-on-one level, between manager and employee, for example. But active listening can also be built into an organization’s communication strategy. Feedback systems like surveys, polls, and reports signal to employees that their voices are being heard.
In the workplace, meaningful communication is:
- Personalized for each employee
- Empathetic to individual needs/circumstances
- Supportive and actionable
In other words, meaningful communication makes employees feel like the organization cares about them as human beings.
4) Gather & Analyze Feedback
Collecting, analyzing, and acting on employee feedback are key to understanding the needs of your workforce and seeing that those needs are being met. Organizations that check in with their employees on a regular basis are more likely to foster open communication and positive workplace culture. Feedback loops like surveys, polls and in-person check-ins can unearth roadblocks that are preventing employees from doing their best work. Using digital communication tools that collect feedback from employees helps managers focus on analyzing results and implementing changes.
Communication strategies build engagement when they focus on improving the relationship between an organization and its employees. This means giving employees reasons and incentives to invest their time and effort into doing their best work. Recognition, continual training, and convenient access to communication tools are all ways companies can build engagement. This not only creates a workplace where employees are more likely to enjoy their job, but it also encourages workers to seek opportunities to go above and beyond.
3 Common Challenges with Workplace Communication
Creating an effective communication strategy might look great on paper. But what happens when it falls short in practice? Here are 7 communication challenges to look out for:
1) Finding The Right Communication Tools
Internal communication refers to how employees share information with each other. That “how” usually involves a tool, or set of tools, that enable the process of sharing. But not all communication tools fit the needs of every organization. In fact, implementing the wrong communication tools can have a negative effect on all aspects of an organization’s productivity.
One of the main communication challenges is finding tools that reflect the reality of how employees go about their work day. For example, traditional communication tools like email and bulletin boards aren’t as effective as mobile tools in frontline organizations. That’s because frontline workers don’t have time to sit down and check their email, and many spend their day on-site instead of near a central office or break room. Mobile tools, on the other hand, allow frontline workers to stay informed on a real-time basis, even when they are serving customers, on the factory floor, or moving between job sites.
2) Information Silos
Information silos create communication challenges because they limit the amount of information that’s available to employees. They also limit convenient and timely access to company updates.
Information silos can:
- Decrease communication
- Discourage or limit collaboration
- Make employees less equipped to excel at their work
- Slow down cross-team problem solving
Most of the time, organizations don’t intentionally silo information in an effort to keep their employees in the dark. It’s usually the legacy systems and paper-based processes that prevent equal access to news and documentation. It could take the form of an employee manual in the form of a binder stashed in an HR file cabinet. Or a newsletter that delivers updates weeks after its content is relevant.
3) Language and Location Barriers
Many organizations employ a diverse, multilingual, and distributed workforce. Yet their communication tools often fail to bridge language and location barriers.
For example, companies may deliver messaging in English to a non-English-speaking workforce, forcing employees to use Google Translate. This slows down communication, increases the possibility of miscommunication, and may even discourage workers from staying informed. Compare that to a tool like Beekeeper, which has an Inline Translation feature that automatically translates messaging into an employee’s preferred language:
Teams that are distributed across different locations also face communication challenges. While office workers may simply connect with co-workers by walking down the hallway, non-desk and frontline workers may not have opportunities for regular in-person interactions. For those employees, tools that enable real-time communication are essential for keeping distributed teams connected.
Overcoming Workplace Communications Challenges
First, let’s address how organizations can tackle the 3 challenges outlined above by finding the right communication tools and using them to create an effective communication strategy. Choosing the right tools can go a long way toward fixing, or mitigating the effects of many communication challenges.
1) Evaluate Existing Communication Systems
Evaluating existing tools and how they’re being used can give valuable insight into any gaps that need to be addressed.
Also, by evaluating existing systems, organizations can leverage what’s already working. Jumping from one communication system and set of tools to another can be overwhelming for employees, so keeping some familiar aspects can create a sense of continuity.
2) Encourage Bottom-Up Communication
Mapping out communication flow can also reveal whether your organization follows a top-down or bottom-up approach. In a top-down approach, information gets passed down from leadership to employees, but rarely the other way around. This usually means that employees receive updates from management but don’t have as much opportunity to communicate with leadership.
With a bottom-up approach, however, employees have an equal opportunity to access, contribute, and respond to the information they receive. This can:
- Give employees a sense of empowerment and ownership
- Improve morale and motivation
- Initiate problem-solving and crowdsource solutions
- Encourage innovation
- Improve the customer service experience
3) Make Communication Easy
Once you’ve looked at how information flows within your organization, consider mapping how an employee communicates during their work day and ask:
- What communication tools do they reach for most?
- How often do they check company updates?
- Do they reach out for more information/clarification?
- Are they giving feedback?
Ultimately, is it easy for an employee to communicate, check company updates, reach out for more information, and offer feedback? If not, how can you make it so? If workers are using Google Translate to better understand instructions from their managers, maybe your communication tool needs translation capabilities. If your workers aren’t seeking out information, have you made it easy for them to do so? Maybe they need mobile tools that let them get in touch with their supervisor and get real-time feedback.
Workplace Communication Tips To Help You Succeed
Here are 6 more tips for overcoming workplace challenges to communication:
1. Make The Communication Process As Smooth As Possible
What makes the communication process smooth, whether it’s a one-on-one interaction between an employee and manager or team discussion? Smooth communication happens when raising concerns, giving feedback, or asking questions is efficient and straightforward. That way, employees can focus on the what of communication, not the how.
To make communication more smooth, consider minimizing the number of steps and tools involved. For example, having a centralized communication platform means employees don’t have to spend extra time jumping from one app or tool to another. In the long run, this not only saves time but also reduces opportunities for miscommunication.
2. Have A Standard Communication Process In Place
Chances are, employees have a few common ways they communicate based on their role. They might:
- Reach out to their managers with questions
- Report to a supervisor about daily/weekly/monthly progress
- Raise concerns about workplace safety
- Give feedback on how to improve their work environment
Having a standard process for each of those scenarios and making that process clear to employees will make company-wide communication more consistent.
3. Understand Your Multigenerational Workforce
Being aware of the different age demographics your workforce falls into, and how that plays a role in their adoption of new technology, can help you find systems to better serve their communication needs.
For example, there are differences in how adults under the age of 30 vs. those over 65 adopt and use technology. Pew Research found that 96% of those ages 18-29 own a smartphone compared to 61% of those over 65. But while older generations are less likely to be smartphone users and early adopters of new technology, that gap has decreased significantly from a decade ago.
Understanding the generational breakdown of your workforce informs which communication tools and technology might receive the highest adoption rates and quickest rollout.
4. Encourage Two-Way Communication
Two-way communication enables employees at any level to communicate and receive feedback. Let’s say a frontline employee working on the factory floor raises a safety concern to their supervisor. That supervisor not only receives the feedback but communicates acknowledgement and next steps to the employee and team. Compare that to a one-way communication approach, where employees would only receive information from management without having a convenient way to communicate back.
Two-way communication can boost employee engagement, help facilitate more efficient problem solving, and ultimately increase productivity.
5. Implement The Right Software/Tools
Many times, implementing the right tools does the heavy lifting when it comes to overcoming workplace challenges to communication. In fact, many communication challenges stem from a lack of tools that match the needs of an organization’s workforce.
For example, frontline organizations often adopt traditional communication tools that are designed to cater to the needs of office workers. But the communication process in an office looks completely different than the one on the frontlines. While office workers might benefit from frequent email and in-person interactions, a more distributed workforce would be better suited to a mobile communication tool like Beekeeper.
6. Make Knowledge Accessible To Everyone
Finally, one of the best ways to overcome workplace challenges to communication is to make company documentation easily accessible to all employees. Often, documentation exists in the form of a paper binder that lives in corporate HQ and only sees the light of day during an employee’s orientation week. If that employee needs to refer back to a specific company policy, they aren’t likely to seek that information out. But if documentation is easily accessible on a mobile app, for example, that employee has the information they need at their fingertips. They are more empowered to seek out information when they need it and solve problems on the spot.
Workplace Communication Challenges: A Quick Recap
Let’s go over the main points of how poor communication affects your organization, common communication challenges, and tips for overcoming them.
Poor communication negatively affects:
- Employee mental health
- Customer service experience
- Collaboration potential
When workplace communication is effective, employees:
- Participate in an open dialogue with colleagues and management
- Know that their organization is actively listening to their needs and feedback
- Give regular feedback and see that it’s making a difference
- Stay engaged and motivated to improve their workplace
Common communications challenges are:
- Lack of tools that match employee needs
- Information silos that prevent equal and easy access to news/documentation
- Language and location barriers
Steps organizations can take to overcome challenges to communication include:
- Evaluating gaps in existing communication systems and tools
- Encouraging a bottom-up communication approach
- Making communication easy and convenient for all employees