How to Deal with Over and Under-Communication in the Workplace
Coming out of the Covid pandemic, it’s estimated that about a quarter of the American workforce is working from home. This shift to fully remote or hybrid models has meant a rapid change in how companies handle their communication channels and procedures. While these channels can be more efficient, they have also brought a new set of challenges.
One of the major challenges for communicating with a remote workforce is finding a balance between independence and micromanaging – you want to offer employees the freedom to get on with their job while maintaining your company structure. Managers need to walk the line between over and under-communicating every day.
This can be difficult if you’re new to a remote or hybrid work environment and, if done poorly, can lead to a drop in productivity, engagement, and ultimately missing team goals. To help get you started on the right foot, we’ve put together four top tips on how to deal with under and over-communication in the workplace, but before we get to that, what does it even mean?
What Is Over and Under-Communication?
Under-communication could be one of the more common problems in a remote work environment and occurs when a manager is unable to clearly communicate what they need, want, or expect to their team. At the same time, an employee may suffer from under-communication if they can’t communicate what they need to succeed in their role.
This is always a risk at work, but remote communication has made it harder, with people needing new tools to express themselves that they aren’t entirely comfortable with. This can lead to miscommunication or under-communication.
A simple example of under-communication could be failing to tell a team member the deadline of a task. You have under-communicated a vital piece of information.
On the other hand, over-communication in business is when a manager is going into too much detail or specifics (often out of fear of under-communicating). However, once you tip the balance into “too much”, then a team can feel micromanaged, reducing productivity.
Additionally, over-communication can waste time. For example, a manager can spend an hour going step-by-step through a task rather than letting the team get down to business.
Either way, failure in communication when working remotely can lead to a drop in productivity. So, let’s find out how to beat it!
Tip 1: Host Personal Meetings and Encourage Honest Communication
Weekly team meetings or on-the-fly calls are all well and good, but to ensure your communication is hitting the right balance, you need planned, structured one-on-one meetings. These personal meetings benefit managers, reports, and the company as a whole. These meetings can help foster more honest communication by:
- Building trust through personal relationships – trust is vital to any team (we’ll talk more about that later). Having regular one-on-one meetings offers employees and managers the chance to build lasting and more personal relationships. Employees who feel trusted perform better and are more likely to communicate issues to you.
- Checking in on tasks – personal meetings are a great way to check-in with employees to ensure they are on track and hitting their goals or if not, what obstacles you can help them to overcome. This means not having to micromanage while staying on top of the workload.
- Create a space for feedback – this runs both ways. A one-on-one meeting creates the space you need to give feedback to employees but, more importantly, the space for them to give you feedback.
In addition to one-on-one meetings being a good way to communicate, they can also offer the space to improve other areas of your communication while working remotely. In a one-on-one meeting, ask employees specifically for feedback on your communication techniques. If you under or over-communicate, your team will be able to tell you!
How to Build a High Performing Team
Tip 2: Set Up Internal Communications Rules
Different communication channels and styles are appropriate for different tasks and using the wrong one can lead to under or over-communication in the workplace. For example:
- Email is great when you need to send a message or request to a team member, potentially with documents or information attached, that is clear and in need of little to no explanation. It can also be a good way to convey non-actionable information to large numbers of people, such as company policy changes.
- Video meetings, on the other hand, are great for when a topic or task is more complex and will require explanation or back-and-forth discussion. This way you can take some time to explain what needs to be done, why, and answer any questions.
- Voice calls fill a similar role to video calls but lack the “face to face” aspect which can reduce intimacy but also bring benefits such as reducing so-called “Zoom fatigue”.
- Voice messages are a great alternative to text-based chat as they offer the fast explanatory benefits of an email but allow for more nuance in a message.
- Shared documents are also a communication platform. Having some kind of collaborative online note can fill the role of a whiteboard and conference room from a traditional office.
You need to establish clear rules about when to use each communication channel and decide which channels are right for your business. In addition to the channels people should be using, clear rules about the “when” and “how” of communicating must also be set.
For example, you may set rules ensuring nobody receives emails outside of their work hours by introducing scheduled messaging or only allowing unscheduled phone calls for emergencies to not interrupt others’ schedules.
The exact channels and rules you need will depend on your company and, more specifically, your team. Work with everyone in the team to create communication guidelines that help productivity.
Tip 3: Trust Your Team Ability To Lead, Don’t Micromanage
We talked about how personal meetings can build trust earlier, and now is the time to implement that! The fastest way to over-communicate in business is to not trust your team to do their jobs, which spirals into micromanaging, leading to, among other things:
More stress in the work environment
Demotivation and employee resentment, no doubt creating high team turnover
Stifled innovation, since individuals can’t break out of a manager’s rigid grip
Lack of self-management
Lack of creativity
A circle of poorer and poorer communication
It’s all too easy for managers to fall into this trap with WFH employees if they aren’t used to managing a remote team, but it will damage the team, the manager, the employee, and the company. Research shows that “Employees who are less trusted by their manager exert less effort, are less productive, and are more likely to leave the organization.”
While, at the same time, “Employees who do feel trusted are higher performers and exert extra effort, going above and beyond role expectations.” To avoid micromanaging, show trust in your team, and avoid over-communication in the workplace:
Don’t continuously check in on the status of a project or task
Don’t use meetings when a simple email will do
Do give team members the space to be creative in the job
Do give team members the tools they need
Tip 4: Invest in Real-Time Collaboration Tool and Communication Infrastructure
We’ve talked about establishing rules about communication, but that all starts with investing in the right tools for your company. For example, you’re generally going to need both real-time and asynchronous communication tools for a remote team.
Let’s start with asynchronous communication tools. These are channels that don’t require the sender and recipient to be available at the same time. One of the most common examples is email. Emails can be sent at one time and read or responded to hours, days, weeks, or years later (although you should probably be reading your emails more than once a year).
Asynchronous communication tools are ideal for remote teams in different time zones as well as messages that don’t require a direct back and forth. Using some asynchronous communication tools can also show greater trust in your team since it avoids too much communication at work.
On the other hand, we have real-time tools. Real-time communication tools will replace some of the interactions you would have once done in person, so are vital for remote team communication.
A video meeting is a simple example of a real-time (aka synchronous) communication tool. This requires all participants to be at their computers at the same time. This requires greater coordination but also brings its own benefits, such as more nuance and more dynamic conversations.
Finally, you have tools that can be productivity power tools, such as collaborative Online Notes. Using tools such as this, a team can collaborate in real-time on projects, leaving notes, videos, pictures, etc., and hashing out ideas as if round a table. Alternatively, notes can be reviewed, commented on, and left for another team member to check in their own time.
Plenty of tools fulfill the various real-time and asynchronous communication needs you might have, so figure out what’s right for your company and talk to your team!
Whether fully remote, hybrid, or even in an office (it still happens!), under and over-communication in the workplace can be a serious issue. Good communication is the backbone of any business, and finding the right balance is the difference between poor performance and a productivity powerhouse. Start leveling up your communication today with these four simple tips:
Host one-on-one meetings to encourage honest communication
Set clear channel guidelines
Trust your team!
Invest in your communication tools
The future of email is here,
are you ready for it?
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