Workplace Communication

Communication is a two-way process. Communication is successful only when the receiver understands the message intended by the sender.

Effective workplace communication is very essential for smooth and efficient functioning of an organization. The manager should have proper communication with his subordinates, else it will lead to absenteeism amongst workers, lower productivity, development of grapevine networks in an organization. There should be two-way communication in an organization. Manager should have personal contact with his subordinates. He should clearly communicate goals and policies of the organization to his subordinates and should get feedback on these goals and policies.

Feedback plays a very important role in the communication process. It enables us to evaluate the effectiveness of our message. Giving the subordinates chance to provide feedback is important for maintaining a open communication climate. The manager must create an environment that encourages feedback. For example: after communicating a job assignment, he should ask “Do all of you understand?”, “Is that clear?”, “Do you have any doubts?”, etc. This will ensure that whether his message is understood or not.

Both upward and downward communications are important. Upward communication will keep manager informed about employees job satisfaction, employees feelings for their peers and about organization in general. Downward communication is important so that manager can give job instructions, explain the roles and policies and explain the issues which need immediate attention. Similarly we have horizontal communication in an organization which is also very important. It is essential that people working at same level should have effective communication amongst them so that there is co-ordination between them. Communication at workplace should be clear, concise and specific. There should be effective use of body language at workplace. Body language reflects the position of a person in the organization. A manager should make effective use of his body language while communicating with his subordinates.

Workplace Communication – How To Make The Best Use of It

In its simplest form, communication is a system for sending and receiving messages. And when we do any of that within the workplace, as we do every day, we have “workplace communication”. How do we make the best use of it?

To understand what workplace communication is, one needs to first understand what communication itself is. Communication is a giving or exchanging of information, signals, or messages by talk, gestures, writing, etc., to give information and messages.

Communication is a process we use to have and keep a meaningful relationship. It is a system for sending and receiving messages as by telephone, telegraph, radio, etc… It is a system of routing for moving things from one place to another. It is the art of expressing ideas, especially in speech and writing. It is the science of transmitting information in symbol. It is all of these things and more.

Like all other basic communication, it needs to be developed, practiced and improved on a continuing basis. In the workplace, because we spend a large part of our daily lives at work, we first need the ability to communicate with others.

Within workplace communication we need to manage ourselves, our co-workers, our bosses, our suppliers and customers. We need to establish, cultivate and nurture business and personal relationships effectively and successfully.

How do we do that? For many, it does not come naturally. We get irritated by things and by people around us. We get frustrated if we cannot express ourselves properly. Many folks find it very hard to have any kind of relationship, let alone one at work. We often hear of conflicts, sometimes ending with tragic results.

One thing we all have in common: we all have to work at workplace communication. Some of us come into the workplace more equipped than others, some less. We decide what we need and initiate ourselves in the learning process. We may have to learn to communicate with diplomacy for example.

We may need to learn to become more persuasive communicators. We may need to learn to become better leaders in our own lives and in our own departments. We may need to learn to reduce stress in difficult situations, or in our overloaded responsibilities.

Whether we deal with our co-workers or our employees, we can improve workplace communication by learning to give and get constructive feedback. But first, we need to learn to be assertive. We need to be able to make contact with others and open up a conversation. We need to be interesting by reading interesting things that we can talk about, relating to our business. We need to smile more.

Workplace communication should flow from one person to another, from one department to another, from top management to bottom management.

Workplace communication takes many forms. It is verbal, nonverbal, written. It uses many means such as telephone, letters, memos, computers, Internet. Email has become the most common forms of workplace communication.

Workplace Communication – A Strategic Perspective

In my earlier article titled “Workplace Communication – A Practitioner’s View”, I had suggested deployment of a strategy as part of a comprehensive approach to employee communication.

Just to re-emphasize, I had suggested that the Workplace-Communication is a self-perpetuating process that aids the organization in achieving its goals by;

Interlinking various levels of hierarchy and functions;
Acknowledging employees about the organization’s vision, values and goals for enlisting their commitment;
Helping employees identify themselves with the organization’s vision and enabling them for prioritizing their actions; and
Helping the organization generate openness & mutual trust and develop congruence between organizational & individual, goals & efforts.

Here, I will now elaborate on the substance of a strategy for Workplace-Communication. Before we begin, let us hold a common meaning of strategy as “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term objective”.

Workplace-Communication is somewhat akin to “internal advertising” with clarity on “Above The Line” and “Below The Line” approaches. The underlying purpose of the Workplace-Communication strategy is to keep employees adequately informed all the time regarding the current status of business, future prospects, issues concerning their jobs & careers, market conditions, etc., essential to achieve a greater congruence between organizational & individual, goals & efforts.

So what are the core elements of a sound Workplace-Communication strategy?

Development of the strategy

There is no point in presuming what employees would like to know or should know. It is a common sense as well as a daunting task. While developing a Workplace-Communication strategy, the organization should consider aspects like employee demographics, average education profile, average age profile, cultural diversity, language proficiency, etc. It would be worthwhile to do a dipstick on “what, when & how” employees would like to know about the business of the organization as well as about their jobs & careers. While every employee need not receive all the information, he / she should certainly get what is relevant to him or her at the right time.

Classification of information or data

Having identified “what, when & how” employees would like to know, each piece should be classified in terms of criticality and target audience. Classification should also include who should know what, when, how and from whom. The moot point is that the employees have the first right to information about the organization, and if they come to know about their organization from the external agencies, then the organization stands to lose credibility. This component has a stand alone weight also when the organization does not have a strategy for workplace communication.

Periodicity of communication

Too frequent or too infrequent communication – both are ineffective. Therefore, each piece of information should have a specified relay periodicity. The analogy is with the daily morning newspaper which has to come every morning and a fortnightly tabloid which has to come every fifteen days. Of course, in case of emergencies or special situations, information ought to be relayed immediately. There is no point if the invitee receives the marriage invitation after the couple is back from the honeymoon.

The language of communication

It is vital to convey information in the language which employees comprehend. It cannot be Shakespearean English when you are a Russian company. Relaying information concurrently in English as well as in the vernacular and / or the national language (if English is not the national language) is the most preferred way. It is also helpful to use visuals and videos depending on the topic. When communicated in the vernacular language, it is important to have a transliteration and not translation. The core aim of this component is to reach out to maximum possible employees.

Channels of communication

This is a challenging component of the workplace-communication strategy. It is entirely up to the organization to innovate on this front. The strategy by design should focus only on formal channels as informal channels have different purposes & implications. So what are the options?

Induction program / tour / film and intense (yes, I mean intense) interaction with the senior guys around

Well crafted induction & socialization booklet with visuals and emphasis on values and ethics

Bilingual monthly or quarterly magazine / newsletter (print as well as electronic version) with designer looks

Mass SMS (can be a powerful tool for conveying exciting news)

Updated “Employee Section” on the company’s website (accessible to employees only though their PCs, Laptops, Tablets and Smartphones)

Team or Department review meetings on a monthly basis (each such meeting must start with a brief on the overall business status and then only the departmental agenda should be discussed)

Circulars or Emails (for example, sharing quarterly / annual business results with all the employees one go) from the CEO or a designated senior and displaying a copy or transliterated version at all the conspicuous places

Display of the organization’s vision, mission & values in the most conspicuous places with suitable designs. Such display should catch attention immediately.

Conventional as well as digital boards / panels depending on the time of information

Computer screens / permanent standies

Training events (very intense tool to communicate with employees)

Official blogs / chat platforms

Annual or half-yearly get-together

Official letters given to employees (offer letter, appointment letter, confirmation letter, compensation revision letter, promotion letter, transfer letter, recognition letter, termination letter, etc.)

Feedback process

Do employees get to know about the organization what they need to know? Do they find the content relevant? Are they able to relate their own performance & experiences with that of the organization (barring the impact of external factors)? Are they receiving information as per the promised periodicity? Do they find the language lucid and the media apt? No communication can be effective if it is not two-way and understood properly. Therefore, it is pragmatic to have a periodic check on the effectiveness of the content, channel, periodicity, language, etc.

Core Group

A group of employees should be entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the effective implementation of the communication strategy. The group should include the HR Head, at least one designated business head, Head of Corporate Communication, Head of PR and at least two employee representatives. It would be prudent to have a good balance of male & female members and seniors & juniors. Young guys have ideas & energy and veterans have the wisdom. Like the classification of information or data, this component too has a stand alone weight.

Conclusion

Over-communicating is better than under-communicating. Information in the organizational context is an essential food for thought, idea-generation, discussion, decision and action. So having a well-defined Workplace-Communication strategy and ensuring its effective implementation, is surely vital for the organization’s business & success. Communication could be spicy at times, but its real hallmarks are timeliness, adequacy, realism, language and the reach. Someone has aptly said that, “the skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. He / she can accomplish nothing unless he / she can communicate effectively”.