Improving the lines of communication in your company can significantly increase productivity and streamline workflow. Empowering your employees to speak to each other and to their higher-ups improves morale, generates ideas, and presents new opportunities for problem-solving.
But how can you quickly and simply fortify the lines of communication in your workplace? Xerox suggests in the Forbes BrandVoice column that encouraging employee socialization strengthens working relationships. Silicon Valley companies that furnish campuses have incorporated this concept into their company culture: Google is famous for promoting employee interaction. The atrium of Pixar Animation Studios was designed by Steve Jobs to feed employees from different parts of the building into one central area, to mingle at the Cereal Bar, for example. These examples may seem to take “all work, no play” to an extreme, but the more your company supports team-bonding time, the more likely it is that your employees will know one another personally, and reach out to each other in work situations.
Facilitating face-to-face meetings doesn’t just fall along horizontal lines, but also along vertical reporting structures. Managers and bosses should be a presence for their employees. As this Fast Company article indicates, employees will often follow the example of higher-ups. Therefore, higher-ups need to be seen and heard in these communications channels, to foster transparency. Whether that’s a ping-pong tournament or company meeting, the endorsement of managers and leaders will further enable employees to effect change.
Avoid the temptation to force this kind of cooperation through open-office seating plans. There is a valuable time and place for interaction, but there is also a time (and there must be a place) for heads-down, power-through work. This degree of focus and concentration can be incredibly difficult to achieve in an open-office environment: a flawed seating chart which fails to consider the varied temperaments of various employees.
Email overload is another common symptom of stymied workplaces. In addition to face-to-face communication taking the onus off email, team-based instant messaging platforms like Slack and Hipchat can offer a less burdensome opportunity for communication. Rather than sending a question to languish in an overworked email inbox, these channels allow crowd-sourced questions, an informal archive of information, the ability to manage multiple conversations, and easy collaboration. These platforms are particularly handy for remote teams for their video chat capabilities, returning quick answers to questions too complex for email or chat.
In addition to social functions and informal conversation rooms, sitting active team members in each other’s immediate vicinity will also greatly increase communication. This recommendation may sound like a no-brainer, but companies often confuse departments based on job function (like Marketing, Accounting, etc.) with people working together on a single project. If projects change, this may mean moving people around occasionally, but the increased collaboration qualified by proximity is priceless.
For communication to increase and for workflows to streamline, these various lines of communication must work in concert. So as Entrepreneur proposes, it’s best to establish a tiered system for these lines of communication, so that all members of a team are clear on where to publish different questions, requests, and notifications. For example, your team may institute a formal email or form application for a request that involves multiples people and several checks. But when communicating internally about the request, you may go through informal Slack communication channels. When responding to the requesting party, you may enforce email updates, so all parties are on the same page. If there is confusion about a request, your team may elect a representative to meet face-to-face with the requesting party for clarification, and send an update via email afterward. It’s always best to resolve arguments or confusion in person, rather than over email or written channels, to avoid escalating frustration.
Simply getting employees to talk honestly and comfortably with each other and with their managers will greatly improve your company’s and individual teams’ workflow. To reinforce this connection, advocate socialization, initiate messaging platforms, seat immediate, project-based team members in close physical proximity to each other, and establish a hierarchical ladder for these communications.