Overcoming communication overload in the age of remote working

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Demand for remote working is on the rise across Europe, particularly among millennials, and businesses that fail to ensure they are geared up to enable greater collaboration among far-flung workforces risk declining productivity.

Recent research from Clarizen – which yielded insights from 300 companies around the world – found that 70 per cent of organisations have employees working from home and remotely, but there is a risk that this will lead to decreased productivity because of poor communication and collaboration between those working in the office and those offsite.

What’s more, a study by FlexJobs found the vast majority of millennials want to telecommute every day and, as a result, more companies are facing pressure to embrace remote-working practices.

In order to remedy the struggle to foster collaboration between colleagues scattered across various locations and time zones while maximising productivity, many businesses have turned to technology that facilitates easy and frequent employee communication. Applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Skype have become increasingly prevalent in the workplace because of their promise of streamlined communications between workers by reducing lengthy, and often confusing, email chains.

Unfortunately, such applications are immersing workers in an ‘always on’ culture in which they are flooded with an endless stream of meeting requests, updates and alerts. Dispersed teams that are spread across numerous continents are the hardest hit because they receive notifications throughout the day and potentially at weekends, as working weeks can differ from region to region.

As a result, communication overload has broken out in offices across the globe as workers struggle under the weight of clusters of unfocused messages – a barrier to efficient employee collaboration and productivity.

One of the most pertinent findings from Clarizen’s research, which was conducted to gain a deeper insight into workplace communication and productivity, was that only 16 per cent of the companies surveyed said productivity levels were ‘excellent’, compounded by 81 per cent saying their attempts to boost workplace communication had not improved productivity.

It’s of little surprise that many have succumbed to the temptation to adopt a range of tools and practices that promise to enhance employee communication. But the survey showed that workplace communication apps often actually complicate employee interaction and hamper productivity. It found that, in the past year, companies deployed one or more of the following communication tools to improve productivity:

  • Skype (39 per cent)
  • Microsoft Teams (14 per cent)
  • Google Hangouts (8 per cent)
  • Slack (7 per cent)

As enticing as communication tools are in terms of user experience, simplicity and delivery, it is clear that they are not being used effectively to drive efficiency or they are incompatible with the workflow of companies that are embracing remote-working practices.

Businesses need to focus on streamlining communications by employing an end-to-end collaborative platform that focuses the exchange of relevant messages and enables teams to track and feed into ongoing activity – thus promoting genuine efficiency that boosts productivity.

The following are vital remedies for companies looking to ensure more effective collaboration among remote workers:

  • Provide a communication tool that ties workplace tasks to business functions and improves the coordination of workflow.
  • Integrate existing tools with a more comprehensive collaborative platform that ensures communications align with tasks, deadlines, budgets and project updates.
  • Employ an end-to-end communication tool that provides full visibility across the full range of key deliverables, so employees can keep up to date and focused while avoiding unnecessary catch-up emails, calls or meetings.
  • Adopt a system that automates project checkpoints and updates, so employees will spend less time assessing what is going on and more time working.
  • Deploy a collaborative platform that updates information in real time and provides a holistic view of progress on tasks, resources, deadlines and other key deliverables.

Offering more flexible ways of working is a business imperative for organisations wanting to attract the very best talent. However, many face critical risks to successful collaboration and, in turn, efficiency because of communication overload.

It is a problem that needs to be resolved to ensure remote working is beneficial to companies as well as employees – and that greater work flexibility enhances business agility while boosting productivity.

David Goulden is product director at Clarizen

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