By Tom Medema
The COVID pandemic obliterated the notion that information workers need to be in an office or on-site to get work done.
Truthfully, these employees can sign on from wherever, whenever — as long as communication channels with bosses, colleagues, customers and external partners are open and active.
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In other words, it’s never been easier to connect, collaborate and share work. But being able to converse at a moment’s notice doesn’t always convert to getting work done.
Quality over quantity
Everyone, from a company’s founder to its newest hire, should also be aware there’s a hefty price tag associated with ineffective communication powered by frequent information exchanges lacking clarity, completeness and/or context.
For example, an executive might fail to share important details about a pending merger, partnership deal or company priority with board members, fellow leaders or staff. One employee might Slack a colleague to discover what happened during a Zoom meeting they missed and receive an incomplete or completely wrong summary.
Co-workers from different departments — product and marketing, for instance — might be tasked with collaborating on messaging a software update to users and simply never talk, email or chat about it until right before the update goes live.
Regardless of why, how or when communication breakdowns take place, they don’t happen in a vacuum. And consequences — immediate, such as a lost business deal, or longer-term, such as a nugget of unsubstantiated info that leads to a mass quitting event — could reach far beyond a break room, Zoom window or board meeting.
Company leaders must set the tone for effective communication across ranks and departments by consistently delivering clear, context-rich information.
Rather than acting like everything is urgent and pushing for everyone to return to the office, executives need to embrace employees’ desire to work in ways that are more compatible with their lifestyles.
Doing so involves more than investing in platforms like Zoom, Slack and Notion to bring people together regardless of where they’re physically located. It requires moving away from the very culture of constant chatter these platforms encourage which can result in complications from a minor misunderstanding between colleagues to a mass employee exodus.
The reality is that remote work is now simply work. Platforms offer 24/7 communication possibilities, but also drain employees will to engage and introduce new pressures to work environments.
At the same time, people are more free to explore alternative career options if they’re not satisfied with current employment for any reason. In fact, employees hold more leverage than ever to ask for conditions and policies that fit individual preferences, lifestyles and financial needs (a good thing, if you ask me).
The kicker: Technologies created to solve ineffective work communication (collaboration platforms and tools) are now fueling the problem. Constant chatter can easily lead to everything feeling like a fire drill, priorities becoming unclear and significant time spent sending and/or responding to messages instead of getting work done.
While it’s been heading in that direction for years, the pandemic put the fallacy that people have to be in the office or have their laptop cameras on during a Zoom or Loom to get work done and put to bed once and for all.
Against this backdrop and in the face of economic uncertainty and layoffs, industry leaders need to go beyond simply investing in collaboration technologies and embrace a culture of strategic, asynchronous communication.
The alternative path — staying with the constant chatter status quo — involves risking more than lost revenue or the departure of a few employees. It could prove fatal.
People actually developing digital collaboration solutions, meanwhile, need to take a beat. They should (re)think how to leverage innovation to help people connect, relay important information, understand nuanced context and get specific points across in today’s hybrid work environment.
Tom Medema is the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Bubbles, a collaboration tool that lets users tag anything on their screen and invite teammates to discuss in-context.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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