The blight of communication overload and the road to recovery

Guest blog by David Goulden from Clarizen

Communication in the workplace has come a long way since chat by the water cooler was the best way to tap into what’s going on in an organization. The advancement of email and then social media technologies and the subsequent development of messaging applications such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype and Slack promised to take the difficulty out of communicating, with the intention of making our lives easier.

 

 

But do they?

We’re now able to contact just about anyone, anywhere, anytime and, as a result, our workplaces are now flooded with an endless stream of meeting requests, updates, and alerts. Consequently, a modern day workplace epidemic – communication overload – has broken out as workers struggle under the weight of ineffective communication, poor employee collaboration and low productivity.

Clarizen recently conducted a survey of nearly 300 companies around the world to gain a deeper insight into workplace communication and productivity. One of the most pertinent and disturbing findings was that only 16% of companies say their productivity levels were ‘excellent’, which was compounded by 81% saying their attempts to improve workplace communication failed to improve productivity.

As companies seek to constantly maximise productivity, the temptation to adopt a range of communication tools and practices that seemingly simplify employee interaction – but actually complicate it – is all too enticing.

 

The survey found that in the past year, companies deployed one or more of the following communication tools to improve productivity:

• Skype (39%)
• Microsoft Teams (14%)
• Google Hangouts (8%)
• Slack (7%)

 

Unfortunately, without solid communications infrastructure that enables employees to exchange information efficiently in a business context, companies find themselves mired in a quagmire of poorly linked tools, practices and systems – which in fact cause more delays and increase costs. As impressive as many communication tools are in terms of user experience, simplicity and flexibility and delivery – all the bells and whistles – companies are either not utilizing them effectively or the technology itself is simply not applicable to the work being done.

What clearly emerged from our survey is that there has been a widespread breakout of communication overload in organizations across the globe – characterised by too many meaningless meetings, irrelevant documentation, un-warranted emails, irreverent alerts, and topping it off by saturating the workplace with too much non-work related chit-chat over a variety of communication platforms.

The problem lies in how communication is dealt with on a business level. A key taking from our survey found that 70% of respondents say they need to go beyond creating additional lines of communication, and facilitate better collaboration among employees so they can work together to meet objectives, coordinate activities and monitor progress. As a result, they’re realising that communicating is not the same as collaborating.

It is clear that businesses need to rethink their approach of extending communication to improve productivity in the workplace. Endless requests for boardroom meetings and placing high-importance urgency tags on emails are causing communication fatigue and turning out to actually be detrimental to productivity. Instead, companies need to focus on streamlining communication channels by employing an end-to-end platform that maximises productivity levels and harnesses the power of efficient communication practices and tools.

So, what steps do businesses need to take to remedy the outbreak of communication overload in the workplace?

 

The following key areas highlight how companies might cure the epidemic of communication overload:

 

• Refrain from adopting a totalitarian approach – obliterating all forms of communication in the workplace bar one is counter-productive. Employees are always going to ‘chat’ about things. But our survey found that 73% of respondents need a communication tool to tie workplace tasks to business functions, which will improve the coordination of workflows.

 

• Find a way to enable tools such as Slack to be used as more than just a chat app, but instead link it to a more comprehensive collaborative platform that connects communications with tasks, deadlines, budgets and project updates.

 

• Make visibility core with a top-down approach – by employing an end-to-end communication tool that provides full visibility across the board, employees can keep up to date, focused, and not locked in unnecessary catch-up meetings.

 

• Automate where necessary – by adopting a system that automates project checkpoints and updates, employees will spend less time responding to emails or sitting in unnecessary meetings, and more time getting actual work done.

 

• Employ effective monitoring techniques – our survey found that over half of respondents identified a need for tracking individual and team progress towards business objectives. This can be done by deploying the right collaborative platform and implementing a reporting approach that provides a real-time, realistic view of progress on tasks, resources, deadlines and other key deliverables.

 

The result is communication in context and, in turn, a big boost to effective collaboration, business agility and efficiency – at a time when finding ways to increase productivity is just the prescription most businesses are looking for.

Author: Kate Thomas

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