At first glance it may seem a stretch of the imagination to suggest that the pandemic is improving communication in the workplace.
For many years we have become increasingly technically connected, with 24/7 email and phone calls extending working hours and impinging on vacation and family time. Add to this the impact of the multitude of apps available for communicating at speed, from WhatsApp, to Instagram, to Twitter, and internal social communication tools like Yammer and Jam …. and the list goes on and on.
But this increase in volume doesn’t necessarily correlate to an increase in the quality of the communication. Who hasn’t fallen victim to the “reply all” syndrome in email, where one message can grow into a huge mass of communication moving around an organisation, and involving many people who have either no interest or no involvement in the subject matter? Often, all that information becomes disruptive and irritating, distancing people rather than connecting them productively. In addition to affecting productivity, poor communication can also have a heavy emotional impact on employees. Loss of morale, stress and frustration increase when employees don’t connect effectively, and the result is a poor employee experience.
The communication culture of an organisation is also impacted by generational differences, organisational hierarchy, and cultural preferences. In some organisations, for example, using WhatsApp is a perfectly acceptable way to conduct business, in others it’s taboo.
It could be argued that the use of technology has damaged communication, by reducing direct communication, and encouraging employees to default to tools like email, rather than phone calls and meetings. As a result, employees miss out on non-verbal communication cues like tone of voice, body language, and other visual prompts to help them understand and interpret messages.
However, since the pandemic we have seen a surge in the use of tools like video conferencing and online presentations, which have re-established core elements of our visual and face-to-face communication. Digital conferencing is now an essential element of the workday, not only for international business, but for connecting with vast numbers of remote workers.
At first many have found transiting to the “Zoom” culture difficult. Apart from the need to learn how to use the technology, the idea of bringing colleagues “into our homes” has been a challenge. Not only have employees had to set up home office spaces, but they have also struggled with juggling family life whilst trying to present themselves professionally on screen. And let’s not mention the dressing up dilemma – full business suit, or presentable work top with pyjama bottoms!
However, once the logistics have been handled and a base level of competence in using the tools has been achieved, the value of a visual human connection has come into its own. The connections may be remote, but being able to see participants has enabled a new level of communication to be established which has crossed generational and hierarchical divides, and which on the whole has been a more empathetic experience for all. The combination of the personal stresses caused by the pandemic, with the anxiety over job security and ability to remain productive, has generally been balanced by a more tolerant, thoughtful, and positive style of communication between colleagues.
The challenge for organisations now is how to maintain and build upon this new-found level of communication when the pandemic is over. Many organisations may be left with a more flexible work policy which sees some employees back in the workplace, whilst others work remotely as a norm. Leaders will need to consider what communication culture they want to promote in the future, and how they can select and use technology to boost the benefit gained from face to face communications rather than negate it.
In HRBluSky, communication is key to improving the employee experience.