Remember when you only needed your phone, email, and sparkling personality to communicate at work? Then, one day, a colleague introduced a new tool that promised to free up your inbox and improve collaboration—and it did. Then another tool came along to solve a different problem, and then another, and another. Now, as notification after notification pops up, you wonder if you have too many tools.
Technology is supposed to make your work life easier, not more exhausting. You can establish mutually beneficial protocols and practices that bring serenity and productivity back to the workplace. But it’s not a solo effort. You need the support of management if you want to improve the state of communication and collaboration in your office. However, we’ll share a few improvements you can make on your own to minimize digital overload.
Establish Communication Guidelines
Every communication and collaboration tool must have a unique purpose. Once you define its purpose, you can establish guidelines to keep communication, collaboration, and information-sharing in the appropriate channel. This strategy helps to prevent silos and redundancies.
Create a list of communication and collaboration use cases and match each case to the best app for that purpose. Ideally, you’ll discover you can reduce the number of apps in use. Here are some use cases to get you started:
- Information: FYI, announcement, and news—no discussion required
- Individual discussions
- Sensitive topic
- Status update
- Initial task assignment and instructions
- Questions and replies
- Group discussions
- New ideas
- Challenge/problem solving
- Consensus-building and making a case
- Status report
- Sharing documents
By going through each use case together your team can decide which tool is most appropriate and which practices to change or eliminate. For example, an individual or group status update via email or phone/video call isn’t necessary when you’re using a project management tool like Asana or Smartsheet—that’s one of its purposes.
Embrace Asynchronous Communication and Collaboration
Real-time communication strengthens relationships, especially when working remotely, but it can be counterproductive too. A key principle of workplace etiquette is respect for the time of others. It’s not fair to expect an instant reply from colleagues who are just as busy as you are.
Make asynchronous communication the norm. It allows people to deal with fewer distractions, preserve their focus, and increase their productivity. Instead of responding to every Slack message, they can check it every few hours.
Establish acceptable response times for emails and messages. Adjust these times for different groups, such as colleagues, volunteer leaders, members, press, policymakers, public, etc. This new protocol will likely require a change in the expectations of others outside the team. Your committee chair may not be comfortable with it at first, which is why it’s better for the entire organization to adopt these protocols. But, if they don’t, you have to start putting an end to the craziness somewhere.
Put quiet hours on the calendar. Set aside time each day or week when meetings aren’t scheduled and people aren’t expected to respond to emails and messages. During quiet hours, employees can focus on deep work.
Develop Better Personal Work Habits
Instead of keeping Outlook open or notifications on all day, batch your inbox time. Only check your email and other platforms three or four times a day. You’ll get much more work done in between these batching sessions than you did before. Don’t forget to adjust your notifications settings, so they’re not tempting you all day.
In addition to respecting quiet hours during the day, everyone should set boundaries for when they’re unavailable before and after work. You need time to recharge and let your brain process the events and challenges of the day, and not respond to “just this one quick email.”
Clear writing reduces the chances of misunderstanding and the need to send another email or message asking for clarification. Arrange for staff to get access to on-demand training sessions in writing. You can also use emojis to clarify tone in more casual communications.
Adopt a Strategic Approach to Communication and Collaboration Tools
Let technology do some of the work for you—that’s why you invested in it. Project management tools like Asana, Smartsheet, Confluence, and Trello eliminate the need for project status check-ins and meetings, and follow-up emails. These tools make tasks and projects transparent to everyone involved and they increase accountability, too.
If you have the urgent need to explain something “in person,” shoot a video and send it over instead. The recipient can watch it at their convenience without you interrupting their work. Instead of wordsmithing a report by sending emails or messages back and forth, collaborate in an online document.
As one tool piles up on top of another, siloed, multichannel communication is the result—an unsustainable and stressful approach to work. Adopt an integrated, omnichannel approach instead. See if you can sync or integrate any of the tools you’re using. For example, link your calendar, Asana, Teams, and Zoom in Slack. By doing this, you get the majority of your notifications in Slack and can still collaborate on documents via Teams.
Let each piece of technology find its purpose in collaboration, not competition, so you can work on achieving your organization’s purpose without additional complexity and stress. If you’re unsure how to simplify your communication channels or need help establishing a hierarchy of communication responses, contact us, we can help.