One of the strange characteristics of the modern workplace — and some might say, ironic paradoxes — is there is an excess of conversation, but precious little communication. What’s more, this inferior signal-to-noise ratio is not necessarily rooted in poor communication skills. Granted, there aren’t many workers at any level — from intern to C-suite — who wouldn’t profit from some degree of communication training and coaching, or at least benefit from a refresher on easy-to-neglect communication aspects like active listening. However, according to higher education and non-profit executive James Hauschildt, the bigger and far more common problem is about technology; or rather, the lack of certain kinds of technology.
It’s the responsibility of leaders to provide their workforce with technology tools that enhance rather than impede communication among colleagues, and with external stakeholders like clients, customers, suppliers, vendors, officials, and so on, says James Hauschildt. Otherwise, major communication challenges and problems are not just likely, but they are a foregone conclusion. Interestingly, in such environments it is often unheralded workers who do their best behind-the-scenes to compensate for poor or non-existent communication technologies. Without their effort, things would get chaotic rather quickly.
To make communication across their workforce a competitive advantage — instead of a chronic obstacle — here are three core communication technologies that James Hauschildt believes leaders should put on their priority procurement list:
Online calendars — such as Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, iCal, Spike, Boomerang Calendar, Weiskal, EventCal, and dozens of other proven, highly-rated solutions — have gone from being an optional nice-to-have workplace tool, to an essential must-have for all businesses; from nimble and agile start-ups to established multinational enterprises.
James Hauschildt notes that for online calendars to be of any use, employees have to keep them regularly updated throughout the day. Enforcing this might be an uphill battle in some organizations, but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. Some organizations, if willing to invest, can even implement technology that dynamically updates employee calendars! Once employees see how much easier and more efficient their life is with online calendars than without, typically their only regret is that they didn’t start using them sooner.
Cloud-based Collaborative Work Management Platforms
Cloud-based collaborative work management (CWM) platforms combine portfolio management software, program management software, project management software, and task management software in a single centralized platform that employees can access wherever they are, and whenever they’re working. This latter feature is vital for organizations that have remote workers, or need to keep external parties (e.g. customers, vendors, etc.) in the loop and wisely don’t want to rely exclusively on email.
According to James Hauschildt, one of the key features of CWM platforms is that they automatically create a proactive and organized communication trail. He explains that this helps new hires get up-to-speed quickly, and it also makes sure that people are held accountable for what they communicate — and also for what they neglect to communicate but should have.
Content Management Solutions
Content management solutions like SharePoint, Google Drive, Box, and several others establish much-needed context around folders and documents, enable employees to stay in constant touch, store documents in centralized locations (i.e. no more frenetic hunts for elusive contracts, change orders, drafts, etc.), and foster effective collaboration across teams and departments.
James Hauschildt explains that one of the most important things that organizations need to keep in mind, is that some content management solutions are much easier to implement and use than others. It is important to go beyond what a vendor claims on a website or what a salesperson says over the phone and evaluate potential solutions with the actual employees who will be counted on to use them on daily basis.
The Bottom Line
Obviously, communication technologies like those highlighted above are not magic wands that instantly transform communication-challenged (or just plain dysfunctional) workplaces into a high-performance organization. However, they can and do play a key role in turning an excess of superficial conversations, into an abundance of focused and productive communication — and ultimately driving organizations ahead, instead of holding them back.