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Remote working is destroying workplace communication — and what to do about it

Good workplace communication is essential to productivity.

Allie Nawrat

communicVitalSmarts communication ation VitalSmarts
Credit: VK ST via Twenty20.

Unleash Your PeopleHow to fix broken communication in the world of remote working

  • Research by VitalSmarts found that employees did not feel able to express worries or concerns in the workplace.
  • Bad communication was, in turn, contributing to rising stress and burnout and more unproductive working.
  • How can companies fix broken workplace communication?

Communication at work has been thrust into the limelight over the past week. There has been enormous controversy and debate surrounding the announcement by HR tech company Basecamp and its decision to outlaw societal and political discussions on company accounts.

However, it is clear that issues with workplace communication are not limited to Basecamp. Research by leadership training company VitalSmarts found that remote working has generally had a negative impact on communication at work.

According to a survey of more than 1,000 individuals, employees were more than twice more likely to avoid speaking up about concerns with colleagues and managers while working virtually compared to when they were in the office.

Before the pandemic, 22% let concerns and problems drag on for weeks before addressing them, but this increased to 54% over the past year.

However, those that did speak up were frustrated by the communication going nowhere. Top irritations for individuals included colleagues and managers not following through with commitments, projects being changed without consultation, or higher-ups only half-heartedly committing to individuals’ priorities.

Of course, this lack of communication has worrying outcomes. It increased stress levels in 23% of respondents, led to more time wasting for 21%, lowered morale for 21%, and caused unproductive working for 14%.

Ultimately, issues around communication of concerns – and companies not addressing them appropriately – is affecting not only company’s employees but also their bottom lines.

How to fix broken communication

As a result, it is essential that companies do the opposite of Basecamp and create an environment where speaking up about problems — whether they are personal, cultural, or organizational — is normalized and encouraged.

VitalSmarts researcher and vice-president of product development Emily Gregory said: “This study confirms distance is destroying dialogue.

“Ultimately, leaders are responsible for monitoring dialogue and facilitating it when and where it isn’t occurring—especially with remote employees. Distance can’t be an excuse for silence.”

VitalSmarts advises, therefore, that companies facilitate communication by inviting dialogue by asking people how they are doing, what support they need; “Don’t mistake silence for contentment; often it’s just the opposite.”

Managers and colleagues should also do this by over-communicating themselves and making time in virtual calls to actually build up personal relationships with staff.

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