3 Tips for Improving Communication in the Digital Workplace

Mobile Phone CastleWe live in the most connected time that any human being has ever lived in, and yet, it seems that we’ve grown worse at communicating as time has gone on.

Gone are the days of the workforce that could rely on face-to-face communication as an workplace staple, as offices exist in both physical locales and in virtual spaces accessed from all over the globe. Communication all too often now boils down to textual exchanges between multiple time zones, sometimes even utilizing varying degrees of shorthand and emojis to get points across.

Compounding the issue is the degree to which the current workforce can be considered intergenerational, with baby boomers on one end of the spectrum, who have had to learn new technology in their twilight years, and digital natives on the other end, who seem to be able to use technology in their sleep.

While it seems like a paradox, some modern workplaces are finding that the more we become digitally connected, the harder it is to actually communicate. So how do you improve communication in the digital workplace?

1. Embrace the Change

In terms of digital disruption and technological revolution, there are two types of people: those that swim against the stream and those that go with the flow. The first step toward improving digital communication in your workplace is to realize that nothing will go back to the way it was.

Let’s look at it this way: according to USC’s online resources, about 24 percent of Americans work from home at least some hours each week, spending an average of six hours per week telecommuting. You can either look at these figures and see a problem that needs solving, or you can look at this new way of doing business and see its strengths.

Inherently, there are obstacles and problems that are associated with digital change, but there are also great strengths to be leveraged as well. Just because technological revolution and increased remote work might hinder those who are only used to traditional communication channels doesn’t negate that new tech and apps can actually increase workflow and productivity.

2. Invest in Communications Apps & Technology

The modern manager’s next step to improved business communication deals with providing employees and teams the right tools to do their jobs. These will help bolster unified communications and efficiency across the organization.

The University of Alabama Birmingham’s “Top Apps for Team Collaboration” lists solutions for research, visibility, note-taking, and organization — but the apps that we want to focus on here are the communication apps. They suggest these three:

  • Google Hangouts: A free broadcasting service (in the U.S. and Canada) capable of displaying video, phone, or text messages in one-on-one or group conversations. A screencast option lets teammates view and edit the same document together while accommodating emojis, photos, GIFs, and maps.
  • Slack: Similar to instant messaging or a group text, Slack lets you communicate with one another by creating topic-based discussion channels that can be searched through a system of hashtags. Public channels are kept open so anyone on a team can see what is going on. Files, photos, and video links can be shared through a simple drag-and-drop system as well. You also can create private channels and send direct messages. Furthermore, connecting Slack to your app stack can make your communication flow even easier.
  • Asana: A project-tracking app with almost no learning curve. Asana promotes mass productivity by providing daily workload snapshots that let the whole team know where each member stands on a certain project. When one teammate uploads a document or sends a message through the app, Asana sends an email to notify other members on the project.

These are just a few of the solutions at your disposal. Do your own research and always be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to solve problems within your teams and your organization.

3. Be a Leader; Not Just a Manager

This last tip is a good way to improve communication in any workplace — digital or physical. There’s a difference between being a “manager” to your employees and being a “leader.” The difference between the two is actual trust and communication.

Managers must be followed. Whether they communicate well, whether employees trust them, their word dictates what others must do. Unfortunately, this only ensures that the bare minimum will get done, and it only ensures one-way communication: top-down.

Leaders, on the other hand, have cultivated trust in their employees. There’s a two-way mode of communication, because employees want to talk to their leaders and managers. They want help with their problems, and they want to go above and beyond.

JustWorks mentions that one way to improve leadership and communication is to set up weekly or monthly one-on-one’s. Even if you’re working in a remote office, video chat platforms like Skype and Google Hangouts can work wonders in simulating face-to-face meetups and clue you in to different communications styles that your employees use.

In the end, it’s really just about being proactive and searching for communications solutions instead of dwelling on communications breakdowns. Stay vigilant, and stay agile. The only thing keeping you and your organization from a great culture of communication is yourself!

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Andrew Heikkila is a tech enthusiast, a futurist, and a business owner from the Pacific Northwest. He believes in the power of technology to guide the world in the right direction, but also understands human fallibility means it won't always be used to these ends. Still, he has hope that people will transcend their natural devices, and become the beings we have the potential to be.

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