The workplace was once composed of a physical office space with employees working face-to-face, and through email during set hours between 9am and 5pm.
Fast forward several years and it is now the norm for employees to be working across multiple locations, hours and devices, the workforce no longer confined to a single office environment.
As these diversified workplaces emerge, the importance of collaboration in the workplace has never been more pronounced. Building a collaborative, digitally connected work environments is integral to ensuring business growth. Organisations must introduce digital workplace strategies capable of improving collaboration and communication, and enabling employees to work together effectively, regardless of location or device.
Central to this is equipping your teams with effective communication tools in the workplace. Whether you need tools for better communication in the workplace or to streamline task or anything in between, there are several options available to you.
Defining Digital Workplaces
While the digital workplace is now driving a wide range of projects across many industries, the concept is still emerging. There are many definitions of the digital workplace and some are all encompassing, while others focus on specific facets of the concept.
The digital workplace can be considered the natural evolution of the workplace. It encompasses all of the technologies staff use to do their jobs. This can range from the HR applications and core business applications to email, instant messaging, enterprise social media tools, intranets and portals. Most (if not all) organisations have a digital workplace.
What is important is to focus on setting up a digital workplace that helps your staff do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. It should consist of a holistic set of environments and communication tools in the workplace delivered in a usable, coherent and productive way. This gives focus on the experience of the employee or the individual as well as the environment in which they work.
Your business communication platforms should be a component of your overall digital workplace strategy. This will ensure the enterprise collaboration tools you adopt will enhance the workflow of your organisation.
[Related Resource: Digital Workplace Infographic]
The Importance of Communication Tools
Effective communication tools in the workplace can lead to a range of benefits for organisations. This includes:
1. Improved Collaboration
Regardless of where your team is located, effective collaboration is the lifeblood of any project's success. Using communication tools in the workplace ensures that everyone stays on the same page, reducing misunderstandings and eliminating geographical boundaries. With the best workplace communication apps at your disposal, you can collaborate on projects regardless of location, ensuring timely deliverables and satisfied clients.
Here's how you can leverage them for peak collaboration:
- Unified Platforms: Choose tools that allow multiple functionalities - from real-time chats, document sharing, to task assignment. Platforms like Elcom’s intranet bring everything under one digital roof, eliminating the need to juggle between various apps.
- Scheduled Check-ins: With team members spread across different time zones, it's crucial to schedule regular video or voice call check-ins. This fosters consistency and ensures everyone is aligned with project goals.
- Interactive Workspaces: Modern intranets allow the creation of dedicated project spaces where teams can discuss, share files, and provide updates. Such spaces become a hub of activity, ensuring everyone knows where to find project-related information.
- Embrace Asynchronous Collaboration: Understand that not everyone can be online simultaneously. Equip your teams with tools that allow for asynchronous collaboration. This means tools where updates, feedback, or task completions can be viewed and picked up by others in their own time.
- Regular Training: The best tools can become obsolete if your team doesn't know how to use them effectively. Regular training ensures everyone is adept and can maximise the tool's potential.
2. Enhanced Communication
Understanding team needs and expectations is often where communication falters. But with digital communication tools in the workplace, a message becomes clearer. It’s more than emails and chats. It’s about creating a culture of open dialogue, where feedback is welcomed, and clarifications are sought proactively.
Here's how the right digital communication tools in the workplace can help:
- Feedback Loops: Implement features like read receipts, comments, or feedback mechanisms. When employees know their messages are being seen and acknowledged, it fosters a sense of responsibility and ensures transparency.
- Cultural and Language Tools: For businesses with a global presence, translation tools or cultural cues can be invaluable. They ensure that no employee feels left out, and messages aren't lost in translation.
- Clear Communication Protocols: Define when to use what tool. For example, urgent matters might be for direct messages or calls, while long-form discussions could be reserved for email or dedicated discussion threads.
- Emojis and GIFs: While they might seem informal, emojis and GIFs can often convey emotions and tones that words can't. They can break the monotony and bring a touch of humanity to digital interactions.
- Listening Spaces: Beyond speaking, it's vital to listen. Create spaces or forums where employees can voice concerns, provide suggestions, or simply share their day. This fosters a sense of belonging and makes employees feel valued.
3. Increased Productivity
While face-to-face interactions are crucial, not every meeting requires a physical presence. The most popular communication tools in the workplace offer video call capabilities, allowing teams to save those in-person meetings for when they're most needed. This not only saves time but also cuts down on travel costs, leading to a significant boost in productivity.
Here's how tools can assist in harnessing peak productivity:
- Prioritise Video Calls: While emails and chats are effective, video calls add a human touch and can often expedite decision-making. They provide cues from facial expressions and body language, which might be absent in text-based communication.
- Define Meeting Agendas: Before any call or face-to-face interaction, circulate an agenda. Knowing the objectives beforehand ensures that everyone comes prepared, making interactions concise and meaningful.
- Implement Meeting-Free Days: Designate certain days where no meetings are scheduled, allowing employees to deep dive into tasks without interruptions. Tools can send reminders or block out calendars to reinforce this.
- Integrate with Productivity Tools: Ensure your communication tools for workplace integrate seamlessly with productivity apps such as task managers, time trackers, or project management platforms.
- Embrace the Power of Brevity: Train your team to communicate clearly and concisely, avoiding lengthy discussions when a shorter one will suffice.
4. Improved Employee Satisfaction
Feeling isolated is a challenge many remote employees face. However, regular use of communication tools for workplace can significantly bridge this gap. By fostering a sense of belonging, these tools help employees feel more connected, leading to improved morale and job satisfaction.
Let’s see how digital tools enhance this sentiment:
- Create Social Spaces: Beyond work discussions, allocate spaces within your intranet or communication platform for informal chats, photo sharing, or even virtual coffee breaks.
- Regular Recognition: Utilise digital communication tools in the workplace to celebrate milestones, work anniversaries, or accomplishments. Recognising employees digitally amplifies their achievements, making them feel valued.
- Feedback Portals: Allow employees to provide feedback or voice concerns anonymously. This encourages more honesty and can provide invaluable insights for management.
- Onboard Effectively: The initial phase of joining an organisation is pivotal. Use your tools to create a smooth onboarding process, introducing new hires to the team and providing all necessary resources in one accessible place.
- Flexible Communication: Recognise that everyone has their preferred way of communicating. Some may prefer direct calls, while others may favour text. Ensure your tools cater to these diverse preferences.
5. Driving Innovation
Innovation is birthed from the consistent exchange of ideas. When your teams are equipped with communication tools in workplace, they can easily share their insights, feedback, and brainwaves, paving the way for the next big thing. An environment that encourages open communication invariably drives innovation.
Here’s how tools can cultivate a culture of innovation:
- Idea Repositories: Create dedicated spaces within your communication tools where employees can drop in ideas, regardless of how big or small.
- Collaborative Brainstorming: Use platforms that allow for real-time collaborative brainstorming sessions, with features like whiteboarding, document co-editing, or visual annotations.
- Innovative Challenges: Launch regular challenges or hackathons, urging teams to come up with inventive solutions. Such activities not only spark innovation but also build team camaraderie.
- Open Channels: Maintain channels where leadership communicates openly about company goals and objectives. This transparency can often inspire employees to think of aligned innovative solutions.
- Celebrate Failures: Promote a culture where failures are seen as stepping stones to success. Encourage teams to share failed projects and the learning from them, ensuring that innovation isn’t stifled by the fear of failure.
Essential Digital Workplace Communication Tools
To manage these industry changes and stay abreast of the most popular communication tools in the workplace, many leading organisations in business and government have implemented a digital workplace strategy.
By intelligently combining the technologies that many businesses already use, the digital workplace has broken down the communication barriers and is transforming the employee experience to one promoting efficiency, growth, and innovation.
The key to success, however, depends on the implementation of a digital workplace strategy - requiring one that is capable of driving true change within the organisation and leveraging the best workplace communication apps.
An intranet is a private hub that can be accessed by any authorised users within a business organisation and are considered foundational digital communication tools in the workplace.
Intranets are used for improving internal communication and digital collaboration, as well as easy access to resources. Modern intranets are often built using content management systems as they are easier for non-technical staff to manage,
In this age of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and telecommuting, an intranet solution will result in a more flexible workforce and ensure all employees are working towards the same goals.
Intranets enable you to easily share company news and build an information-rich environment, accessible from any location and on any device. This makes it a great platform for cultivating a positive culture across a diverse workforce.
Homepage news feeds can be personalised for each staff member based on their team, department and/or location to ensure the most relevant news is placed front and centre for them. This can also be linked to security permissions to ensure sensitive or confidential information is only seen by a select group of people.
Intranets take this further by facilitating communication among staff working in different locations. Staff can update each other quickly and easily on their own news. They can distribute news to specific colleagues in a particular location or area of specialty, and colleagues can interact with the content and offer feedback in real-time.
You might be interested in implementing an intranet strategy if:
- You and your employees find it difficult to stay up to date with any company announcements or news
- If feels like there is a communication breakdown between departments and employees
- Important documents go missing or are buried in thousands of emails
- There is too much paperwork
- There is no clear or standard orientation policy for new employees or interns
- It's difficult to form cross functional teams to resource projects
- Your employees feel disconnected from headquarters and leadership
[Related Resource: Intranet Best Practices: Everything You Wanted to Know Blog Post]
On top of email, collaborative spaces which provide private or group messaging and chat functions are often viewed as one of the best digital communication tools in the workplace to keep teams working together. It’s an effective form of communication for busy employees and managers. Instant messaging makes updates on projects and general team discussion much easier.
This works well when employees or team members are spread across different geographical locations and different time zones. Files can be shared and conversations can be accessed if needed.
It can bring together management and employees and allows for an open discussion on any topic (usually set up and monitored/moderated). It can also help in knowledge dissemination and bring the workforce together, while also making it easier to find information via the search function.
Chat rooms and group messaging environments may seem the same, but the interfaces are often very different.
Slack, for example, lets you categorise conversation threads by project, topic or team in dedicated channels. These channels are similar to chat rooms. When staff enter a channel, they can see everything colleagues have posted there in one long, continuous feed including @mentions, replies, files shared, polls and so on.
Microsoft Teams, on the other hand, has a different interface. Like Slack, a channel can be created for each project, topic or team which is displayed on the left hand side. However, it features more of a compartmentalised design. With posts, files and wikis separated into separate tabs.
A good project management tool will help you plan, organise, and manage your team's projects.
One of the key issues with managing projects is they can be quite complex - involving several people, tasks and deadlines that are dependent on each other.
Most project management tools are structured in a way that visually displays how a project is progressing, making it much easier for team members to keep track of individual tasks, as well as the larger picture.
Some key components to look out for include:
- Task management including assigning tasks, automated reminders and tracking tasks
- Individual to do lists
- Visual interface through Kanban Boards, Gantt Charts etc.
- Time or deadline tracker
- Easy communication and collaboration features
- Ability to customise to your organisation's needs
An online help desk with a case tracking system enables employees and customers to submit a case or support ticket. This allows it to be assigned to the right employee and have it checked and resolved in time.
A case tracking system helps centralise customer support queries and keep track of any open issues.
Track team productivity, prioritise the most relevant and important queries and collect valuable customer feedback that can help in improving your products, services and customer relationships.
An issue tracking system is generally used in an organisation’s customer support call center to create, update and resolve reported customer issues or even issues reported by employees within the company.
An internal blog on your content management system is also a good option. This is not something your customers and competitors will be able to access.
The internal blog is a place where employees can share ideas and experiences fast and in an informal fashion. Internal blog advantages can include:
- Broadcasting and highlighting an employee’s knowledge about a certain topic or area of the organisation
- Creating a searchable and permanent archive of knowledge base articles, knowledge and expertise. All the articles uploaded and published on an internal blog will stay there unless deleted manually
- It promotes open discussion and collaboration among the workforce. There are instances where some employees will be more likely to speak up in a virtual environment than face-to-face
- It connects employees across departments
- It keeps the staff up-to-date on important information and company updates
With the exponential rise in remote and hybrid working arrangements, video conferencing apps have exploded in popularity and have enabled organisations to continue operating with staff working away from the office.
They are one of the most popular communication tools in the workplace and are a must have for keeping these previous office based staff connected.
Conferencing apps enable people to schedule video or audio meetings with anywhere from one person for a meeting to thousands of people for a company-wide communications update.
Video conferencing is much more engaging than standard phone calls and makes it much easier in group situations to determine who is speaking. Attendees can also share their screens and files, and for these reasons are a great alternative to face-to-face meetings with external contacts such as clients, partners and suppliers. Some video conferencing apps such as Zoom Meetings also allow you to change your background to a virtual background of your choice.
Effective communication between staff working across different locations and hours can be challenging, but it can be done.
If you're part of a large organisation with teams scattered across Australia or even globally, the role of effective communication tools in the workplace can't be emphasised enough. Adopting the right tools like an intranet not only keeps the business wheels turning smoothly but also ensures that your most valuable assets, your employees, remain engaged and empowered.
You just need to start exploring the different technology available and decide on which is right communication tools in the workplace for your organisation. Remember, you do not need to settle for one tool.
Start by choosing a tool that can become the base for your communication needs.
For example, many organisations implement an intranet platform for their internal communication needs as it enables organisations to set up team workspaces, easily find staff information including areas of expertise, deliver personalised news and information to different staff members, set up security permissions to ensure the right information is read by staff with the right access levels and more. Then, they integrate other communication tools into their base platform such as Skype for Business, Facebook, YouTube and so on. This enables organisations to offer a centralised communication and information ecosystem for their staff!