8 Ways to Improve Communication in the Office (Backed By Science)
Good Communication in the Office
Good communication in the workplace isn’t just about holding more efficient meetings or getting along with co-workers - it affects everything from productivity to employee engagement.
According to Forbes, 'Companies with effective communication strategies have 47% higher returns to shareholders, more engaged employees, and less employee turnover.'
What’s more, communications-savvy companies can actually translate these effective strategies into dollars saved.
Barriers that lead to misunderstandings between leadership and employees cause massive losses in productivity, especially if errors lead to poor or delayed decision-making. In fact, the cumulative cost of communication breakdowns is about $26,041 per worker per year - what amounts to a sizable chunk of an employee’s annual salary!
Don’t let poor communication keep your employees from reaching their full potential. These 8 tried-and-true strategies - grounded in neuroscience, workplace design, and psychology - will help your team communicate more effectively than ever.
Offer Supportive Feedback
On some level, every good manager knows feedback on an employee’s performance should be constructive. So 28% of employees indicate they never receive recognition or praise in their roles?
If you’re not a natural-born cheerleader or mentor, it may be time to rethink how you dish out feedback - and how you encourage other team members to communicate with one another by extension.
According to neurologist, Carol Kinsey Goman, exclusivity or neglect produces the same chemical as physical pain - which makes inclusivity, collaboration, and trust a beneficial component of any workplace.
Providing regular, supportive feedback - even in small, digital ways - makes employees feel valued and supported, increasing productivity and engagement in their roles. Take the time to give a quick thumbs up on Slack, or set a reminder for yourself to check in informally at your employee’s workspace.
On a broader level, regularly review your management style or ask for anonymous employee feedback. Are you providing constructive criticism on projects in process? Are you allowing employees to complete their tasks with relative autonomy?
According to NPR, the lack of trust inherent in micromanaging - whether exhibited in subtle or not-so-subtle ways - increases dissatisfaction in roles, lowers employee morale, and elevates stress hormones.
'We need employees who will do more than do what they're told, employees who will think for themselves, who will be creative, who will try new approaches,' executive coach Steve Motenko told the broadcast service, 'and all of that is squashed by micromanaging.'
The more you can build trust through supportive forms of feedback, the more productive your employees will be.
Keep it Quiet, Keep it Simple
While open-plan offices can increase circulation and cross-team communication, the noise that comes along with knocking down office walls can increase distraction and decrease productivity.
The average American office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes - but it can take as many as 23 minutes to regain concentration, according to Business News Daily.
Because workers are so prone to distraction, it’s up to their managers to make it easier for them to digest complicated information, Goman suggests.
'The prefrontal cortex can only deal well with a few concepts at a time...Your job is to help people make sense of complexity by condensing it into two or three critical goals that they can understand and absorb,' Goman writes at Forbes.
As for helping your team manage day-to-day distractions? Headphones, white noise machines, and quiet work spaces can all produce happier, more productive workers.
In 2014, Harvard Business Review reported that workspaces designed for exploration, engagement, and energy increased not only communication but problem-solving in team members. Researchers tracked employee usage of physical office space in multiple sectors - from pharma to finance - then tied the data to performance outcomes, including sales and product launches.
'[Our] data suggest that creating collisions - chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization - improves performance,' write Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi, and Greg Lindsay.
While it might take some planning - and investment - to design a highly-functional workspace worthy of Silicon Valley, Waber, Magnolfi, and Lindsay offer compelling evidence that good office design is directly related to productivity.
If your physical space isn’t conducive to communication - or an office upgrade isn’t in the budget - try to incorporate the value of 'collision' into other aspects of your team culture. Design team projects with members from different departments, for example. The key here is to break down communication silos and further encourage team-building - even if the 'collisions' are slightly manufactured.
Balance Digital & In-Person Communication
With the influx of team and project management tools like Slack, Basecamp, and Asana, it’s tempting to limit opportunities for circulation and in-person communication in the workplace.
But Waber, Magnolfi, and Lindsay also discovered that in-person communication enhances the effectiveness of digital tools. Digital tools simply can’t replace in-person communication.
If you’re managing a remote team, this may be a reason to encourage your workers to seek out co-working spaces, argue the researchers.
'People who chose to work in those spaces intentionally sought members from different organizations, thus reproducing the community, social interaction, learning, and energy typical of their online work, while adding the benefit of physical proximity to others,' write Waber, Magnolfi and Lindsay in Harvard Business Review. 'Unwittingly, they were engineering spaces to create the exploration that we know enhances creativity. And it worked.'
Whether you manage a remote team or rely on digital tools to keep your employees on track, 'going digital' in the 21st century workplace can’t erase the vital importance of in-person collaboration.
Provide Clear Goals
Have you ever received a memo from the company CEO and just felt, well, confused?
You’re not alone - a majority of employees who don’t understand company strategy feel disconnected from their roles, and that’s a big problem for work culture, according to two researchers.
'Employees need to hear from senior managers themselves - through straight talk, and ideally in reciprocal exchanges, so that workers feel their own views are heard,' report Charles Galunic and Immanuel Hermreck at Harvard Business Review.
In fact, there’s a direct relationship between an employee’s understanding of their role in a company and their productivity. According to Inc., 91% of employees will work for success when they understand how their role relates to company strategy - and that understanding hinges on direct communication from the top.
Even more compelling- an employee’s ability to understand a company’s mission or a CEO’s vision can also reduce stress and increase trust between workers and leadership.
If you’re in a leadership position, provide all employees with clear, transparent goals for their individual roles, their department’s role in the company, and the company’s mission.
And just communicating with your direct reports won’t cut it - you need to make yourself available to regular team members for the efforts to be felt at the company level.
Break Down Silos
Here’s the bad news- communication silos caused by mismanagement and lack of top-down communication or inter-departmental communication directly impact ROI and decrease employee productivity.
'According to a study by Cognisco, the mistakes that can happen as a result of miscommunication cost approximately $37 billion a year,' reports Kate Harrison at Forbes.
So - what’s the cure? Give your teams more autonomy to collaborate and make decisions, increasing trust, suggests one researcher at Harvard Business Review.
'In my research I’ve found that building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference [between high- and low-turnover companies],' writes neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak. “Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.'
Want to increase both trust and collaboration on your team or between departments? Use digital tools to speed up the time between identifying a project, product, or problem area and decision-making, encouraging teams to collaborate with one another in real time. The autonomy to move forward on a project will engender the kind of trust Zak researches.
If you’ve ever wanted to give up after taking a look at your calendar - and then your to-do list - you’ll feel vindicated by this next suggestion.
Studies show that an over-reliance on meetings can waste both time and human resources. This leads to employee dissatisfaction and increased stress from unmanageable workloads - which employees often opt to take on during personal time.
'[Excessive] meetings force people to make trade-offs concerning how and when to accomplish their solo work,' explain Leslie Perlow, Constance Noonan Hadley, and Eunice Eun at Harvard Business Review.
'Sometimes tasks get dropped or shortchanged. But more often people steal from their personal time to get that work done, a sacrifice that research and practice have shown can lead to burnout and turnover - steep prices for both employees and organizations.'
Instead of meetings, try scheduling alternative email or in-person check-ins to provide regular, substantive feedback. Only use meetings to collaborate and make decisions; avoid calling a meeting to relay information that could be explained in a memo or other company resource.
Encourage & Collect Employee Input
Employees will only be motivated to express problems about their workplace - or the product - if they feel a manager will address the issue and encourage collective ownership.
Because of the psychology of the workplace, this is a difficult relationship for supervisors to cultivate, however.
'We have a deep set of defense mechanisms that make us careful around people in authority positions,' James Detert, a professor at Cornell’s School of Management, told Harvard Business Review. 'That is why the information you’re getting from people multiple levels below you in the organization is likely to be filtered.'
Whether you arrange regular group meetings or one-on-ones to address problem areas, the important thing is to establish a greater pattern of trust between management and workers - and a culture of ownership in the company at large.
'Colleagues need to feel they have a stake in the success (or lack thereof) in the organization and that speaking up, admitting mistakes, and addressing concerns is a collective responsibility,' explains Rebecca Knight at HBR.
The key take-away here? If you want your employees to speak up, you’ll have to put in the work - but it’ll be worth it.
Strong workplace communication can make or break you - but getting it right doesn’t have to feel like such a mystery. Put this research to good use in the last quarter as you reexamine your management practices and strategize for a productive 2018.