How much is too much when it comes to online internal communication?
One core reason knowledge workers are feeling exhausted at work is due to interruptions. Remote work at home might have solved this issue for a few people. I dare say than in most cases, the interruptions have increased. One reason is the lack of physically shared space. In the traditional office, you could see and hear your teammates. If they had their head buried in their hands with a focused look on their face, added with noise-cancelling headphones, you knew not to interrupt. Working remotely, you don’t have that luxury. And yes, I think we can start talking about luxury these days. So, what are your options? You send an email or a message in Microsoft Teams, Slack, or whatever communication tool you are using when the issue arises.
On a regular working day, you don’t really notice how many messages and interruptions you get. I personally got a reminder of how many times I am mentioned even in a small team, when I went for a week’s vacation. The outcome was over 80 emails, 99+ notifications in Microsoft Teams, just to mention a few. Going over all of them and checking the tasks given, took me half a day when coming back to the office. I would say 80% of the mentions, emails and messages weren’t even that relevant after a week had gone by. They were just nice to know.
So, we have now established that you have no control over when people send you email, messages or even call you. How can you make sure your organization and team aren’t overwhelmed with interruptions? A mundane thing, yet it helps you in the long run: A Playbook for internal communication. Here are some tips for you to consider. Try one or all of these, see which if any work for you. And, by all means, share your tips for better communications.
1. Personal time and focus
Reserve timeslots in your calendar for uninterrupted work. Depending on your personal preference, in the morning or afternoon. How about reserving that for outside business hours? I have found that’s when I get more done. Incoming emails and messages slow down about an hour before the end of the business day. People seldom send messages also before the workday has begun.
Bonus tip: put your notifications off from your phone and computer, leave on just the most important ones. (You know, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn notifications aren’t that important.)
Does your email have to be open all day? Most likely not. So close it. Check your email regularly, around twice a day (in the morning and before the end of the business day). Most people don’t expect you to answer emails straight away or even during the same day. The day after is fast enough, in most cases. Just have everyone on the same page about the expectation.
2. Create channels for specific use cases and people
Whatever business communication platform your organization uses, these all apply in some way. These are written for Microsoft Teams.
Create enough Teams to cover different departments in your org. One Team for Sales, HR, IT, Financial etc. In the Teams create channels to include different groupings of people. For example in HR:
- Companywide channel for universal communications. You could use this channel for monthly/quarterly/annual information sharing (holidays, changes in support, etc.) information you need all your people to have access to.
- HR- teams internal channel – make this private, so you have data privacy in check.
- HR for management. You should have one channel where you have the communication focused on management.
- For teams that work with Clients/partners, you might consider having a channel where they can post questions and contribute to the discussion.
3. Only alert the right people.
Tagging/mentioning/pinging (that’s the @ before the name…) people/channels/teams. This is where things go south ways often. You want to share openly, not holding information within a small group of people, and at the same time, you don’t want to overload your team with notifications.
- Tag the Team if your message needs to notify everyone in that Team. Remember, that the number of people in the team might be large. Use this as seldom as possible.
- Tag the channel when your message really should notify everyone on that channel. You could use this for weekly/monthly communication.
- Tag relevant people. Who needs to know this? Asking for help in a channel is a better idea than sending private messages. That way the same information reaches everyone when they need that information. Everyone doesn’t need to be notified every time you post a question or answer to a Team or Channel. Use this as often as possible. Others in the channel or Team can still see the message and the discussion, just not get notified every time someone replies to that thread.
Be transparent and open. Sharing your questions to a Team/Channel gives everybody the advantage of learning. Trust me, you’re not the only one with the question in mind. And share your knowledge with the team by replying to that message thread. Even if your first answer is “Let me check”. And did you know, that people get more empowered when you don’t give the solution straight away, rather coach them towards the answer? For example, someone asks for a file or another form of data. Rather than giving them the file straight away, you might want to ask whether they checked in (wherever the file is stored). That way, people get used to searching for those for themselves and you get the info of not having shared that file. 😊
4. Acknowledging messages/tasks.
Agree on how you make it visible that you have at least read the message. Maybe a thumbs up? Acknowledging and letting other people know you have at least read the message, eases the pain of waiting and wondering. And in best cases, reduces the number of additional messages about the same subject.
5. Being transparent and open.
Depending on how transparent your organization or team is, you might want to consider these tips as well.
- Everybody can give tasks to everybody. Even to the managers/leaders.
- Acknowledge the task given (even if it’s just a thumbs up).
- Give a time frame for completion, if it wasn’t clear with the task.
- Notify, when the task is done, and ask for feedback.
6. Add relevant files and documents to the corresponding Team/channel.
Adding an internal document for let’s say the Code of Conduct to the HR’s companywide channel, makes sure, that everyone in the company has access to the document. You can also store and share it in other places. Choose the correct channels and make it a common practice, so the most relevant documents are easy to find.
In Sales, you might also want to consider having channels for different customers/partner for more private communication and sharing documentation. That way, all the documentation, ready or as drafts are in the same place and everyone in your team can find them and contribute easily, when necessary.
Incoming notifications are a pain in the behind. While you can’t always turn the apps off, do so when you can. Take the time to be smart about your messages, where, when and to whom you communicate. Set common goals for your team and organization, follow the execution, give feedback and correct the course when needed.
We at Fingertip have done our own set of mistakes and learned from them. If you want to learn more about how to lead your team to more effective communication and digital work, read more and let’s talk.