Make leaders approachable; deploy great tech; and make communication cultural.
Mental health professionals say communication problems are the main reason marriages end in divorce. If poor communication can sever even the bonds of love, imagine what havoc it can wreak between organizations and their employees.
Communication breakdown may be most keenly felt by those working remotely. In the 2018 State of Remote Work report, which surveyed 1,900 people who telecommute, the two biggest grievances were interlinked: loneliness (21%) and difficulties with communication and collaboration (21%).
Now is the time to nip this in the bud, because—as demands for flexible working rise—the modern workplace is becoming more and more distributed. Silos can form among branches, teams and individuals, leading to disengaged employees and contributing to staff attrition.
But there are three hugely effective things you can do to stop this from happening:
1. Make leaders more approachable
In a survey by Interact, 69% of managers said there is something about their role as a leader that makes them uncomfortable communicating with their employees. But best practice starts from the top. There is a good reason why many Silicon Valley CEOs are transparent and approachable, responding to emails and social media posts personally, and hosting weekly company-wide meetings: They are leading by example.
When Marissa Mayer was CEO at Yahoo, she would frequently take time to read and respond to questions, ideas—and even accusations—regularly circulated between staff on an 8,000-strong email list. Communication between employees happens with or without the intervention of leadership, but being involved and visible can turn negative situations into positive outcomes.
Make your leadership team more approachable by designating an hour a week to “ask me anything.” This could be hosted live on your internal social media feed to make sure those who aren’t in the office get to take part. Also, make sure the C-suite is visible and engaged on your intranet. A public thank you from the CEO can be a huge deal for a young employee, as can a well-crafted email congratulating someone on a job well done.
2. Deploy great technology
In a survey of 1,000 full-time employees by Nintex, which highlights America’s “most broken processes,” 72% felt IT processes were broken. Yet, good IT systems support fast, unhindered communication, particularly for isolated workers or distributed workforces.
From within a secure intranet, users can chat in private groups or contribute to company-wide internal social media feeds, read stories and articles created by colleagues, be recognized for their greatness, post ideas and receive feedback from managers, and collaborate on work in real-time using project management tools. This is on top of the usual communications tools like video conferencing, live chat and email.
Credit unions with concerns about security can host their digital workplace on-premises, yet cloud adoption continues apace in the financial services sector and smaller to medium-sized CUs may find outsourcing to the cloud is more secure.
3. Make communication cultural
According to a 2017 national survey of more than 800 financial services employees by Future Workplace, it was felt the industry could become more transparent by encouraging straight communication (49%), eliminating hierarchical titles (33%), hiring and engaging transparent employees (30%), creating a feedback forum (28%), and promoting the use of social media (20%). Millennials and members of Generation Z were the biggest believers in promoting social media use in financial services (54%).
But many leadership teams overlook this: Employees usually require permission and need encouragement to communicate fluidly. This is especially true of new starters, who may feel shy about bothering busy colleagues. But, in reality, everyone experiences social anxiety to a degree, so it’s up to management to pre-empt this.
A popular method is to buddy up new recruits with someone from another team or department, offering a fresh perspective and preventing silos from forming. Another—a technique deployed by U.S. tech company Zapier—is to randomly pair up two employees for a half-hour weekly call.
Some companies also dedicate specific chat channels on their digital workplaces to themed non-work discussions—think parents, dog owners, film fans, TV recommendations. This is not a waste of work time. Many tech giants know that bonding over shared interests and “watercooler moments” can result in collaboration and innovation worth millions of dollars, which is why companies like Google invest so much money in creating opportunities for “casual collisions” or chance encounters.
Nigel Davies is the founder of digital workplace Claromentis, Brighton, United Kingdom, which is used by U.S. credit unions—including Community Financial Credit Union, Valleystar Credit Union, South Carolina State Credit Union and Citizens Equity First Credit Union—for easy collaboration, communication and culture.