HR Management & Compliance

What’s Breaking Communication in Your Workplace?

How much does poor communication cost organizations? A 2011 study that surveyed nearly 400 companies with over 100,000 employees each pegged this figure at $62.4 million per organization per year. The annual productivity losses owing to poor communication were estimated to be $26,041 for each worker in the organizations.

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What exactly is contributing to this inefficient communication? Some studies point the finger at inefficient leadership. Most organizations continue to have a top-down approach when it comes to planning and execution. In the absence of clear communication from the top, employees lack direction to execute, which results in productivity losses.

Poor leadership is only one of the many reasons communication breaks in an organization. Here are a few other contributors.

Distributed Workforce

A number of start-ups are completely remote—these organizations do not have an office space and have employees logging in from across the country or even the world. Even among traditional workplaces, it is not uncommon for various teams to be spread across multiple geographies. Add to this the fact that a growing majority of workers today telecommute at least a few days a month.

While e-mail and Skype continue to be popular for workplace communication and collaboration, they are not ideal for larger remote teams, for which brainstorming and decision-making happen among multiple stakeholders.

Using the right collaboration tools is a start—this allows teams to run collaboration on multiple projects in parallel without much clutter. This also allows for clear and transparent delegation of authority that leaves little room for confusion.

In addition to this, it is also expected that the teams agree to a few “core working hours” when all members are available online. This allows for quick resolution of standing issues that can take a long time to resolve over non-real-time forms of communication like e-mail.

Inadequate Soft Skills

Traditionally, businesses have placed heavy emphasis on workers’ technical skills but not so much on their soft skills. This made sense because an employee in a back-office role did not necessarily need to be good with language or presentation.

However, this is not the case with remote or geographically distributed teams that typically collaborate through electronic channels. In such cases, soft skills, especially those that have to do with written communication or oral presentation, are of paramount importance.

Although organizations do have the option to train their workers on their soft skills, it is also best to test these skills during interviews. With less face-to-face and increased online collaboration, employee soft skills can be a crucial driver of efficient workplace communication.

Poor Work Culture

Studies show that work culture influences an employee’s sense of psychological safety, which, in turn, impacts communication. When employees do not feel threatened by the centralization of the organizational structure, leadership behavior, and autonomy, they are more likely to voice their opinions and strive to be heard.

It is relatively easy for traditional workplaces to build a team culture but less so for modern teams that are geographically spread out, as it isn’t always easy to foster a culture when teammates rarely meet face to face.

However, a number of organizations have succeeded in fostering a team culture even among remote teams. Start-ups like Buffer spend thousands of dollars every year in teambuilding activities by bringing their global team together. While this can work for smaller teams, large corporations with thousands of employees tend to create distinct work cultures for each of their locations.

Google, a company that has often found itself listed among the best places to work, adheres to a five-point formula for an effective work culture. This includes psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.

Many organizations (around 50%, according to one study) have also started implementing social learning at work. This allows workers to undergo workplace training along with their colleagues through online courses. Such social interactions between colleagues through a nonofficial channel help foster better relationships among coworkers.

Additionally, knowing what breaks communication in your workplace is an important precursor to establishing a highly effective and productive team. The process begins with hiring the right kinds of workers for your team and continues through team building, infrastructure deployment, and establishing a work process.

Anand Srinivasan is the founder of Hubbion, a suite of free business apps and resources.