Just as how we work has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, how we communicate at work has changed, too. Videoconferencing and messaging platforms are now the norm, but unless used intentionally, they can leave employees frazzled and frustrated — and less in sync with their co-workers, their managers and their organization.
And that can be expensive. According to a study conducted by Grammarly and The Harris Poll, companies with 500 employees lose $6.25 million each year resolving communication issues. Business leaders surveyed said that miscommunication leads to increased costs, missed deadlines, eroded brand reputation and decreased productivity.
Employees who feel less connected are more likely to jump ship, Andrea Dumont, chief marketing officer at Enboarder, told HR Dive. “Employees are looking to establish that genuine relationship with peers and the company they work for, to enable that sense of belonging,” she said. “They’re looking for true engagement, which is bred from connection and tied to great purpose and mission.”
Newish platforms, used in new ways
The pandemic took remote communication platforms and turbocharged them.
Online videoconferencing went from a “nice to have” to a must. In December 2019, Zoom had about 10 million daily meeting participants. By April 2020, that number skyrocketed to 300 million, according to the company. And while the company recently cut its own sales forecasts, video calls and conferencing aren’t disappearing.
They “allow that connection point with those employees working remotely a couple days a week or coming into the office,” said Chris Williams, chief operating officer at Interaction Associates. It facilitates visual communication in both allowing employees to see each other’s faces or share documents — not quite like working side by side, but close.
His company has also seen the rise of asynchronous communication, things like email and messaging platforms. “With more people working remotely or working hybrid, everyone’s not working at the same time or working the same hours,” he said. This kind of communication can bridge those working hours or time zone gaps.
But they can also create friction and frustration when employees feel they need to be checking however many asynchronous platforms the company uses all the time. The same Grammarly and Harris report found that 49% of respondents said they struggled with sending timely responses.
“Employees can really get overwhelmed and have really high levels of anxiety if they’re getting a flood of messages from multiple communication channels,” Williams said.
If this is the case, the company needs to set “clear guidelines for how those channels are supposed to be used,” he said.
Managers can also schedule messages so that they show up during regular working hours, even if they work nonstandard hours themselves, Williams added. Sending an email or channel message at 4 p.m. on a Saturday may make employees feel like they need to be available at all times, too.
Not leaving remote or hybrid employees out in the cold
Despite technological advances in the platforms that allow remote and hybrid employees to communicate, they can still feel left out or even punished by leadership if they are not treated in the same way as in-office workers. Workplace proximity bias can mean those workers are left out of conversations about raises and promotions, through no fault of their own. Managers may not even realize they’re being biased in that way.
“Employers and employees have to be much more intentional about communication,” said Dumont, especially when it comes to communication within teams, between teams, and with the organization.
For hybrid workforces, that may mean being intentional about scheduling when groups of people will be in the office. That way, someone coming back “one to two days a week is not booked with meetings with [a] headset on, working in a phone booth,” she said. For example, one of her clients has sales and marketing come in on the same day.
Human resources professionals can do regular check-ins on how employees feel about issues like their level of connectedness and communication, she added, which can help “keep a pulse on the organization and how connected they feel no matter where they work in the world.”