In today’s business climate, people are beginning to value workplace happiness more than ever before. Based on this, it has never been more important for companies to apply the right tools to improve culture and boost engagement. Effective communication is one such tool that is invaluable in the workplace.
Communication is an all-encompassing aspect that runs right the way through organizations, comprising elements of leadership, employee experience, engagement and overall culture. Moreover, being such a broad church, this is a tool that can impact any area of a business, from increasing productivity and innovation to reducing stress and managing conflict.
“Making communication more effective is mainly about making it faster and multi-dimensional; upwards as well as downwards, and increasingly sideways too,” said Jon Ingham, strategic consultant and author of The Social Organization.
So surely positive communication is a no-brainer, right? Well, the reality appears to run counter to that, as a survey conducted by The Harris Poll showed that 69% of managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees. The survey also showed that managers are uncomfortable becoming vulnerable, crediting others with good ideas and achievements, giving clear directions and speaking face to face.
This is undoubtedly a complex issue, and one that is influenced by a number of societal and generational factors. “It is more complex to deal with increases in flexible and remote working, and global organisations requiring communication across languages,” said Ingham.
Elaborating, he said: “Plus, the internal and external worlds are blurring so much, that internal communication needs to go partly external, and external information needs to be communicated internally.”
Many would argue the way to rectify this is to work towards improving the overall communication culture. One way to do this is to strengthen the organization’s technological approach to internal communications (IC). Aside from just being a method of distributing information, this is thought to be something that lends itself to the whole workplace environment, making things less dull by adding another dimension of communication and allowing the company to convey their purpose more effectively.
A study by Deloitte showed that 73% of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared to just 23% of those who don’t. Thus, in the above scenario, communication has been bolstered two-fold: an efficient IC system now exists which allows the company to distribute information more effectively, but the company culture has also benefited as a result.
However, the sphere of communication is a multi-faceted one, and goes beyond the scope of just distributing information. “Some will focus on more emotional or cultural aspects, creating new meaning across the workforce,” said Ingham.
“Organisation development plays a major role here, reducing conflict, developing trust and psychological safety, helping facilitate team communication and even whole organisation communication through large scale facilitated events,” he said.
Another vital component of achieving healthy and effective workplace communication is through leadership. It is easier from a position of authority to encourage productive communication in order to improve team dynamics and reduce conflict. A study by Applied Vision Works shows that 70% of small to mid-size businesses claim that ineffective communication is their primary problem, and states that “productive communication is crucial.”
The study also comments on how costly communication issues can be, stating that a business with 100 employees spends an average of 17 hours a week clarifying communication, which equates to more than $500,000 per year. Going on to suggest potential solutions, it cites such things as building trust, communicating openly and honestly, clarifying concerns and focusing on the goal as tips for productive communication.
“All HR and management processes play a role,” said Ingham. “Leaders and managers play a significant role in communication but these days we want everyone to play some sort of leadership role and contribute to organisational communication from their own insights and perspectives.”
Concluding, Ingham further clarifies the complex and multi-faceted nature of workplace communications, citing topics such as diversity and inclusion, measurement and analytics, and certain aspects of modern technology as potential solution areas for HR leaders.
Though a significantly broad topic, the important focus points in creating effective communication are clear. Firstly, leaders must play the biggest role they can. Organisational change begins at the top, so authority figures in the workplace must ensure that they are frequently engaging with their teams, but also doing so in a comfortable and empathetic manner.
Secondly, in order to deal with the ever-changing face of modern business, communications approaches must become more dynamic. Interface between office workers, remote workers and overseas employees should be seamless, which is something that may require a more sophisticated technological approach.
But overall, rather than being just one aspect of a business, communication should be a multi-dimensional, all-encompassing concept. It should comprise every element of the workplace, existing between leaders and employees, from peer to peer, and across different systems.