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As I sat down to write this, I received a message from a close friend through Instagram wherein she asked if I received her email inviting me to a surprise party. As if communicating with friends and colleagues wasn’t already difficult, bearing in mind everyone’s hectic schedules, there are now endless channels through which we can contact people—and, therefore, endless places in which important details may live.
So now, in the digital age, it’s not only important for individuals to learn the many platforms to communicate with colleagues, but also which is the best platform for a particular type of communication. In the corporate world, setting up these systems in a clear way and introducing them as part of employee on-boarding is one way to ensure streamlined communication. Similarly, when communicating with teams that work remotely or in the field, create a structure around which they can check in and managers can follow up on their progress. The key components for all of these processes is that communication remain succinct, visual, and collaborative.
In a time when major media outlets are communicating breaking news in 140 characters on Twitter, the attention span for thousand word emails has gone out with the typewriter. While in the past it was considered rude not to open an email with a brief introduction or greeting, today’s emails are straight to the point—and that’s when email is still used. Now, it’s more common to text a quick message to your team when a brief announcement is needed to be made in real time or to post company-wide messages on screens set up throughout the office.
On the client side, they too are bombarded with information and are more likely to enjoy a quick LinkedIn post that features your company’s successes or new products and features than a gift basket. Utilizing corporate communication platforms like LinkedIn makes your message public and therefore serves as free marketing in addition to engaging your current client base; whereas those crackers and cheese you send out every holiday go straight into the waste bin. Adopting a social media-driven communication style allows companies to continue relationship building as face-to-face interactions are minimized.
Just as digital attention spans are short, they also prefer their information to come in the form of a picture. A person cannot eat a meal without sharing it on Instagram—no caption required—nor can they avoid publishing a Snapchat story to communicate just how awesome their life is. In the professional sense, infographics are an increasingly popular alternative to communicate complex messages that would normally come in the form of a 1,200 word memorandum. Graphics are an engaging way to communicate team goals, successes, and opportunities.
When utilizing digital signage in an office, a graphic and sound announcing a big win is more likely to get the attention it deserves than a written message. Though, this is not to say companies should do away with written communication altogether. Important details, like an annual performance review or client pitch, is best done so through written or verbal communication, that way nothing can be misinterpreted or confused with visual aids.
The beauty of digital communication is that it fosters collaboration among teammates. In his book The End of Big, Nicco Male coins the term “radical connectivity” which is the result of digital communication. It removes the barriers to entry in particular professional circles by creating an open and anti-hierarchical space.
More companies are using Slack, a collaborative tool where users can create and join a variety of channels. Some channels can be private, others can be a place to let your mind wander. Some companies encourage “unprofessional” Slack channels where their teams can discuss new restaurants or music in order to strengthen company culture. But, professionally speaking, Slack also promotes thoughtful debate. With team projects, it offers the opportunity to ideate because everyone’s voice is heard. Individuals tend to be more open when using a platform like Slack rather than in face-to-face meetings because the consequences seem more removed—creativity flourishes without feeling judgment from peers. The platform is also a living document. If you can’t remember which day or person made a specific comment, Slack can be searched for anything containing the word or phrase.
Now, with various channels through which companies communicate, outlining exactly how to communicate something (the where, when, why) is important. Develop an organizational chart or roadmap that directs employees to a particular outlet. For instance, something that requires an immediate yes or no may be asked by text or phone call, ongoing projects can develop through Slack, more concrete ideas or duties should be emailed. You’ll find that a lot of unnecessary communication is eliminated when a person needs to qualify the importance and immediacy of their comment.
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