Common complaints about communication

"Sometimes internal communications go too hard in either direction – either there’s so much internal communicating that people feel flooded and it loses its impact, or conversely there’s very little internal communicating and people feel out to sea," says Maddie. 

Most broad complaints about communication will fall into one of five categories;

  1. Communication is infrequent

    Ad hoc messages and announcements can feel off putting to an employee. Try to put a schedule in place and let employees know what that schedule is so that their expectations are managed.
  2. Communication is inconsistent

    Keep how you communicate to employees consistent through which channel you promote it, how you format it, and who it comes from. 
  3. I often miss the communication

    Send your message through multiple channels. Everyone has a different preferred method of communication, so try to catch as many employees through a mixture of channels such as Slack, email, in person, and over the phone. 
  4. What is communicated isn’t relevant to me

    Where possible, draw links between any announcements and how that will impact individuals. If it has absolutely no relevance, then reconsider who you’re announcing it to.
  5. Communication is coming from the wrong person

    The right message needs to come from the right person. Create a guide on who is the best person to make what type of communication, and stick to it.

How to structure a message

Whether you’re sending an update, an announcement, or any other kind of message, it’s best to keep to a set structure when deciding what you’re going to say;

  1. Set the context
  2. Explain what action you’ve taken (or are going to take)
  3. Announce the outcome (or what the possible outcomes are, and which one you’re hoping for)
  4. Add relevant information for the recipient
  5. Welcome any feedback

An example of what this looks like is;

“Hi team, as you know we have been experiencing a period of growth and in the past year have added 20 new team members. Going forward, we expect this growth to continue and have planned for an additional 20 hires over the next 12 months. As a result, we will outgrow our current office space within the next 3-4 months. We are looking for a new space close to our current location so as not to disrupt your commute and routines. We hope to have this finalised within the next 4-6 weeks. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know.”

Remember that communication is a two-way street, so leaving an opening for feedback at the end of every announcement is critical.

Maddie says reflecting on what the recent mood has been in the team can also help you structure your messages, "When I do our weekly internal newsletter, I always think to myself about how the teams have seemed in our meetings throughout the week – are people a bit flat, do they seem fatigued, what do they need right now? I move from that place. A combination of what I’ve picked up from being in meetings or conversations with teammates and what I’d like to receive usually does the trick."

Communication channels

There are innumerous channels to choose from when you’re sending a message. Depending on your business, you may have more or less than others. Using non-traditional channels is also a great way to reach employees who tend to not be very engaged. 

When choosing a channel, the most important thing is to select one that you employees will actually use. To come to this conclusion, simply ask your employees how they would prefer to receive communications from you. Pick the top three to five responses and use these as your main channels — even if it means you need to do some adapting. 

Here are the channels you should be considering;

  1. Physical spaces

    • Notice boards
    • Lunch rooms or common areas
    • Printed magazines or newsletters
  2. Digital channels

    • Email
    • Slack or Microsoft Teams
    • Facebook Workspace or Facebook groups
    • Intranet
    • WhatsApp, Telegram, or text message
  3. Calls

    • Zoom video calls
    • Voice only
    • Conference calls
  4. In person

    • One-on-one 
    • Team or department meetings
    • Company-wide all-hands meetings

Once you’ve selected your channels, you need to set expectations and a few rules. It’s helpful for yourself and your employees to know which channel is used for what, and when. For example, official announcements (such as open positions available) are always via email, intranet, and printed and left in the break room; casual announcements (such as a social club activity) are sent in Slack/Teams, and a company-run WhatsApp group. 

This helps employees to sort ‘important, must read’ from ‘unimportant, optional to read’ and ensures the messages that need to cut through the rest are successfully delivered.

Once you’ve set these rules, you must stick to them! Remember, inconsistency is one of the most common complaints about communication.

Essentials to include in all communications

Communicating isn’t just broadcasting a message and saying the job is done. Welcoming any feedback or questions is a step towards effective communication, but it doesn’t end there. 

Demonstrate your listening skills by including mentions of feedback from previous messages and provide updates on what is being done to address them. Changes take time to happen, and they take time to get used to. Consistent updates help your employees feel informed and prepared for anything that may happen. Don’t just inform your employees once something has happened, take them on the journey with you as big decisions are made. From hiring through to launching a new product or service, your employees shouldn’t be shocked by anything you do, they should see every announcement or change as the most logical next step. 

Give shout outs to employees who’ve made contributions, through performance or culture add. Starting with a celebration brings the team together and sets the mood. Here at Perkbox we check our activity feed from Recognition before end of the week wrap-ups and make note of any peer-to-peer recognitions we’d like to highlight and celebrate together as a team. This reinforces our company values and sets expectations of what is deserving of recognition.

Lastly, bring a little fun and playfulness to your announcements where appropriate — not everything has to be dry and boring!

Communication shouldn’t be limited to work topics

Considering you spend two thirds of your life at work, if you spent that time only talking about work, it’s safe to say it wouldn’t be the best time of your life. Your employees will have plenty of topics to talk to their colleagues about, so give them a space to do so. 

Dedicated Slack or Teams channels for banter, book club, or hobby topics help you manage and keep an eye on the non-work talk. It’s also a great opportunity to show support for causes such as your LGBTQ+, Indigenous and culturally diverse, or differently abled employees.

Google famously gives their employees 20% of their work time to pursue personal projects. This has led to plenty of eventual Google products such as Keep, Maps, and even Gmail. While you might not be able to give them 20% of their time to do whatever they want, giving them an outlet for fun and play through social and non-work chatter can boost their motivation and creativity.

Disseminate your communications through employee representatives

It’s not always possible (or practical!) to get all of your employees into the same place at the same time. If you have large teams, you might want to test using employee representatives to spread messages to their respective teams. 

The key to a successful employee representative program is to be prepared with the materials you want them to take back to their teams. If you hold a meeting and verbalise what you’d like them to spread, they’re sure to forget a few things, or misrepresent what was said. Carefully plan and provide materials they can use to help them spread the message correctly. 

You may even want to invest in a little bit of communications training before letting employees represent their teams. However, this can be a really powerful tactic, as employees will see the message as coming from ‘one of their own’, and are more likely to listen to someone close to them than a distant C-level exec they’ve never spoken to.

Implement processes for your communications

Whatever you decide to do, write it up into a process. Document how frequently you’ll send out what type of communication and who it will come from. Designate how the communication will be structured, depending on what type of message is being conveyed. And finally, standardise your communication channels. 

Once all of this is decided, alert your employees (via the methods you’ve just decided on), and stick to it! In the beginning you can experiment and test channels, you won’t get it 100% on the first try. But as long as you’re sincerely trying to communicate, your employees will appreciate the steps you’re taking to improve.

The last piece of advice from Maddie to to aim for empathy, "I really believe that if we put understanding one another at the core of organisational communications we’ll all be better off. It feels good connecting with people around us and knowing we are having shared experiences and feelings. It just makes sense to use this knowledge to the advantage of our organisations and the people who work in them."

Improve communication with Perkbox Recognition

  • Real-time, company-wide activity feed
  • Peer-to-peer and manager to employee recognition
  • Polls so employees can nominate peers
  • A catalogue of rewards for employees

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