Changing face of what conversing at workplace means

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way employees communicate. Is a permanent work from home good for productivity or do employers need to get people back into offices? Or maybe the answer lies in between these two options.
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As a self-proclaimed communications expert, I thought I knew great communication skills until I met with this accident calledthe COVID-19 pandemic! It seems to have changed the entire world and even organisational culture.

The definition of communication has been changed and the way we used to communicate is not effective any longer. The same challenge is faced by most companies across the globe.

A year ago, the rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus forced most companies to send their employees home. Now, with the reducing number of COVID-19 cases and effective rising vaccinations, the anticipation of returning to office routines seems more manageable. Should companies once again accept the traditional communication tools and return to the workplace with its pre-COVID ways?

According to McKinsey & Company, employee productivity increases by 20-25 percent in organisations where employees are connected. And we are now all well aware of the importance of face-to-face communication and employee engagement at workplaces. But will employees want to come back to office buildings even when it is safe again?

High possibility the answer will be ‘No’

If the answer is ‘No’, how can business leaders create a new communication work world that will keep employees both happy, engaged and productive post-COVID, because communication fitness is the foundation of every company and should be the foremost priority?

If we put it simply, when we are physically fit, we are more energetic, more productive, happier, and more immune. Similarly, if we are fit in communication, it enhances clarity, productivity and even smoothens organisational processes.

Every individual has the same number of hours in a day. Still, some people are physically fit and some are not. Why? Simple: People do not use the resources they possess and also do not create new resources.

Now think, although every organisation has the same resources: e-mail, face-to-face meetings, mobile phones, chat applications. But, some use it effectively and some do not. That is because 60% of the companies do not have long-term communication strategy and out of those that have, 12% do not measure the effectiveness of these communications, as per Arthur J Gallagher and Company.

The first action that is required is to have a long-term strategy for employee engagement. It plays a pivotal role in communication at the workplace, especially post-COVID.

When I say long-term strategy, it means an organisation can start seeing the results after one year. We need to understand that there is no secret about the COVID-19 pandemic impact on our mental health and our ways of life, in general. Employees have started feeling isolated, anxious and emotionally exhausted. So, what can organisations do to prevent this?

Understand. It is a process and it takes time to bring employees’ mental health and communication back to normal. There are several ways which can help corporates prepare for communication fitness in the ‘next normal’.

1. Day-to-day communication instead of weekly communication

While increasing use of technology and other tools of communication are in place at the workplace, it leads to higher risk of disconnection and low satisfaction in performance. Therefore, companies will have to invest more time to see productive results from their employees. The next 2-3 years are going to be crucial for them.

Companies can start investing in tools that are strong for internal communication. After seeing the Covid-19 impact, I feel that all companies should be encouraged to create a private space where employees are free to express about issues and work to resolve them. They can have quick one-on-one sessions with employees to have better and open conversations.

2. Embrace the Risk of Loneliness

Unfortunately, many companies are preparing themselves for ‘Zoom Forever’, and a majority of workers are completely fine with this system. Why did I refer to it as ‘Unfortunately’? Because most companies, probably, do not recognise the consequence of remote work forever.

It is a clear threat that it is taking us from the coronavirus pandemic to a loneliness pandemic, by ending up paying dreadful costs.

Pre-pandemic statistics and new studies carried out during the lockdown show a severe increase in loneliness for employees assigned to work-from-home environments. Isolation leads to low performance, higher rates of employee burnout due to disengagement, poor confidence and depression in the long run.

We have failed to understand that better technology is not a substitute for a sense of connectedness. And less engagement equals less effective communication and less effective communication equals less productivity and, ultimately, poor results for the organisation.

So, I do not personally recommend ‘Zoom Forever’. Instead, the Hybrid Model of Communication can be one of the best models in terms of saving time, energy and costs.

3. A workable hybrid approach

A hybrid approach is not simply three days a week in office and three days’ Work-from-Home (WFH). It is crucial to see the end result after its implementation. Performance measurements have to be in place.

For example, are employees becoming better communicators? Are they providing results? It is important to design a proper hybrid-remote work arrangement that also allows geographic flexibility and to work from anywhere. While making arrangements for a hybrid approach, there are certain aspects to be considered.

Like, it should be designed to bring teams physically together during periods of temporary co-location and encourage asynchronous communication and knowledge codification.

4. Set an Honest Conversation Platform

Talking and discussing are not Communication. Because there is very little probability of being honest in the talk, organisations misunderstand this. Honest opinions, feelings and ideas are the greatest of communication tools. Every boss wants to know what changes employees want in the post-Covid era.

But how would they know if there is no honesty in a discussion? Genuinely, only employees can tell you what changes they have obtained as a result of the pandemic and why. And this can take place only if there is trust, confidentiality and commitment in the conversation.

That, itself, will go a long way towards improvement. Finding out how employees would like to work—from home or office—can be carried out through a simple survey. If a company really wants to know the entire truth, the conversation should be honest and internally public!

Honest, because you want the true opinion and feelings. Employees should not be afraid of expressing their true opinions. And, internally public, because you want all employees to know you care enough to keep them in the loop.

Ways to conduct a successful and honest conversation:

  • Ask employees what they would want to learn
  • Keep confidentiality: Make sure that your employees believe their issues will not be shared with others and they can be rest assured for the same
  • Execute changes and lead by example

Last—but not the least: Believe in the process and make each employee believe in the same communication process.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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