Much like any relationship, the key to maintaining a healthy workplace environment is clear and frequent communication.
The benefits of improving internal communication in your organization are numerous. According to a study conducted by Optum, businesses that maintain an open channel of communication between coworkers and managers are more productive and see higher rates of employee and customer satisfaction and lower rates of turnover and absenteeism, just to name a few.
Effective internal communication has only gotten more important since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted an increase in remote and hybrid work (in 2020, 58 percent of U.S. workers said they worked from home at least part of the time). With teams becoming increasingly decentralized, good internal communication practices are essential to keep teams aligned, prevent duplicate work or wasted time searching for information, and help employees stay engaged.
These eight best practices will help you improve internal communication at your company, no matter where everyone is working.
1. Demonstrate empathy.
No matter who you are or what your occupation may be, we all have experienced the negative impact stress in one’s personal life can have on your work life. As a manager, it’s important that you show your employees that you know they have lives outside of work, that you care, and that you hear what they have to say. Your employees will feel valued and more satisfied in their work, which will lead to greater productivity and an overall positive environment.
Rather than immediately jumping straight to your planned agenda when you meet with your team members, it can be helpful to build in a few minutes of casual conversation so that you can connect as people, not just workers. Ask them how their weekend was, how their kid’s soccer game went, how their dachshund’s diet is going, etc. This type of small talk can be especially valuable in strengthening relationships when you and your team members are working remotely and don’t have the same organic opportunities to chat in the break room or elevator, like you might in an office.
Keep in mind that empathetic communication isn’t limited to meetings. An article from The Undercover Recruiter recommends re-evaluating your entire internal communications strategy to make sure there is an empathy lens on every message. It’s also important to consider the mediums you use for different types of messages: for example, face-to-face communication (even if it’s over a screen) often feels more empathetic than an email or phone call.
2. Learn how your team communicates.
Have you noticed some team members dominating the conversation in meetings and others seeming hesitant to contribute? Your team members likely have different communication styles, and it’s important to understand each style so that you can collaborate effectively and ensure everyone feels comfortable contributing.
There are a lot of different frameworks (and plenty of assessments) you can use to determine your team members’ communication styles. A Fast Company article covers leadership coach Mark Murphy’s approach, which may be useful as you think about how you can listen and deliver key information to people with different communication styles. Here’s a quick breakdown of the four categories:
- Analytical. These communicators are all about data and specificity. When working with this communication style, it’s important to provide specific details up front, set clear expectations, and avoid using too much emotional language.
- Intuitive. These are your big-picture, high-level thinkers. They’re most comfortable covering broad overviews and may be less focused on details; because of this, it may be helpful to send a follow up email with key details after meeting with intuitive communicators.
- Functional. These are your process-driven people. They’re detail-oriented and will break down big ideas or projects into small steps to better work through them. When brainstorming with functional communicators, it can be helpful to ask follow up questions to draw them out and get them thinking beyond the next step of a process.
- Personal. Someone described as a “people person” is likely a personal communicator. These communicators prioritize connection, are good listeners, and tend to use emotional language (e.g. “I think/I feel”). Like intuitive communicators, they may do best when details are shared in a follow up email after a meeting.
3. Adopt a smart alternative to an open door policy.
As a manager, you can strengthen your communication with your team members by making it clear that they can informally check in with you when they need to. However, having a true “open door policy,” where team members can stop in at any time, could cause your productivity to take a major hit–especially if you’re working remotely and your team members can’t gauge how busy you are.
To limit unscheduled interruptions, consider blocking off a certain amount of time on your calendar for “office hours” every week, and let your team members know you’ll be available then. Additionally, you can schedule weekly team meetings and one-on-ones, or even daily standups when necessary, to make sure you and your team members are in regular communication and staying aligned.
4. Empower employees to share feedback.
Make sure your employees feel heard by giving them multiple outlets to share feedback. Sending out an employee engagement survey at regular intervals can be a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Consider conducting periodic stay interviews to learn why employees have stayed with your company, what’s working well for them, and what they’d like to improve. If you use a knowledge engagement platform like Bloomfire, you can also solicit feedback and start conversations by posting open-ended questions for employees to respond to.
It may also be beneficial to offer an outlet for anonymous feedback. Let’s be honest: not all communication is positive, and that’s okay. Many employees are uncomfortable making complaints to their boss, whether it’s regarding an issue with management, an issue with a coworker, or any other change they would like to see in the workplace. Your employees need a way to provide constructive criticism so that the company can continue to learn and grow.
5. Respect cultural differences.
In the age of globalization, the world is shrinking, and your workplace is likely home to a wide variety of cultures and viewpoints. In order to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves, management must be culturally sensitive. Hiring an outside party to lead a sensitivity training class may be a good start, but remember: creating an inclusive and diverse workplace isn’t a one-time activity. It’s something that needs to be embedded into your workplace culture. Leadership should be transparent about efforts to improve inclusivity and give all employees opportunities to share their thoughts on initiatives.
6. Give feedback that is clear and precise, or don’t give feedback at all.
This best practice is as straightforward as can be: if you are going to offer constructive criticism to an employee, you must provide examples of the issue, and you must accompany this feedback with an action item. For example, never simply tell an employee, “You haven’t been reliable lately.” Feedback like this isn’t helpful. Instead, say something like, “I’ve noticed you are not hitting deadlines, and there are more errors in your work. Is everything okay?” This way, your employee knows exactly what the problem is and how to fix it.
7. Set agreements, not expectations.
If, as a manager, you feel you have team members who are failing to meet your expectations, the problem may be rooted in communication. Expectations are based on what you think will happen: they’re internal and one-sided. For example, you might expect a team member to include a certain level of detail in a report because that’s what you would do, but if you haven’t clearly communicated this, the team member might submit a less detailed report based on their own expectations.
To avoid miscommunication and frustration, focus on setting agreements instead of expectations. When you make an agreement with a team member, it’s a two-way conversation where you:
- Establish what needs to be done, when it needs to be done by, and who is responsible.
- Discuss potential blockers for the activity and negotiate terms as needed.
- Commit to upholding your defined responsibilities and meeting agreed-upon deadlines.
8. Use the right communication tools.
If you make it easy and fun for your employees to stay in constant communication, they will. Use an office chat tool such as Slack or Microsoft Teams to create communication channels within your company, as well as entire company chats. Chat groups can be both professional and social. Set up a chat room dedicated specifically to social conversations and jokes. This will allow employees to bond and become more comfortable sharing ideas with one another, even when they’re not working in the same space.
In regards to work-related communication, a chat tool saves time and increases productivity by allowing employees to immediately connect with one another and receive real-time responses. But remember, if your question is one that others could benefit from, consider posting the question in your knowledge management platform. This will ensure the question and answer become easily searchable and accessible the next time someone has the same question.
The ways in which your employees communicate with each other and with you is entirely dependent on the example you set and the atmosphere you deliberately create. Whether workplace communication is poor or outstanding, it can have a big impact on revenue, productivity, and employee satisfaction. So value your employees, set a good example, and above all, listen.
This post was originally published on April 28, 2017. It was most recently updated and expanded on July 13, 2021 to incorporate new statistics and best practices.