Published: 28 February 2022

Communication in the workplace has always been important. Just how important it is, though, is often underestimated. Without clear communications, businesses can open themselves up to a whole host of issues that can create real problems and even have a major impact on profitability. As we all return to the workplace, effective interaction has suddenly been raised in importance by the new working patterns.

Miscommunication is expensive

While it is difficult to estimate the financial damage done by a lack of clear communication, some work has been done in this area. Communicating badly or in the wrong way can be a real issue. Emails, for example, are often used to pass on information that could be delivered much more easily by other methods. Collaboration tools are often used without proper training and, therefore, lose their significance. Some sources estimate that these and other similar issues cost larger businesses in the region of £8000 per employee per year. Scale that down, and you still have a significant amount off the bottom line, even for a smaller business.

Listening is as important as talking

There is an old saying about how we are all given one mouth and two ears for a reason, and it has never been more apt than when you are in a hybrid working situation. With a five-day week, there are multiple opportunities for casual reinforcement of information. Corridor conversations and the ‘oh, by the way…’ unplanned chats are part of the fabric of the workplace. One of the issues that can arise with disparate working patterns is that of limited contact. When contact time is in short supply, it’s vital that everyone is heard the first time because there may not be a second chance. Chairs of meetings need to really reinforce this and be empathetic to the more introverted contributors to ensure they are heard properly. This is particularly important in online meetings (see below), where being heard can be more difficult.

Develop an online etiquette

Although online meetings have their merits, they do reduce the effectiveness of vital components of effective communication. When someone is reduced to a small screen, their body language is also diminished. Another problem with online meetings is that the audio can be swamped by the loudest contributor. Many businesses have produced guides and clear rules to ensure that online meetings still have effective communication. This also reduces the likelihood of people not being heard due to technical issues or needing to compete with louder contributors.

Saying what you need to say

Another difference between online and face to face communication is the amount of social interaction that happens. Small talk and office chatter are far more likely in a physical encounter than over Zoom or Teams. Actually, this can be quite beneficial because it helps to alleviate the problems of isolation and maintains and builds relationships. However, people do need to be aware that time restrictions mean keeping it to a reasonable level.

Communication is more than just a chat

Emails, chat groups, productivity tools such as Slack and, of course, the good old telephone are all part of the overall communication mix. They all have their purposes, and they are all very good, and indeed not so good, at communicating in certain circumstances. Email, for example, really should not be seen as a ‘quick answer’ for a ‘quick question’ option. Picking up the phone or perhaps messaging instead will get better results. However, if you can wait for your answer, then all you are doing by calling is disturbing someone unnecessarily.

Things are different post-pandemic

When coronavirus took hold, we had no real idea of how much it would affect the way we work in the long term. It is fair to say that the work from home revolution was in progress anyway, but the pandemic accelerated that change. Where remote working used to be considered a perk, it is now an expectation for many employees. As we accept the change to remote and hybrid workplaces, we need to think about how we communicate in this new working world.