It’s no secret that the modern workplace is overflowing with communication tools and channels. Some conversations still take place in person…but many others happen via email, in virtual meetings, or within collaboration tools like Slack and Teams. It’s easier than ever before to lose sight of what’s happening.
If you’re struggling to manage the flow of communication with your leaders or with your team, this video will help.
The article below summarizes the video content.
As more organizations move to a remote or hybrid workforce, it seems people are just making up the rules as they go; there’s no defined communication standard to keep teams aligned. People have no idea they’re missing important conversations, because they simply haven’t been added to a chat group or included on an email. In the past, we could literally overhear things happening around us in the physical office. We knew if meetings were taking place because we saw them happening in physical conference rooms. But now, you could be missing important discussions and decisions (which might impact your work) and not even know it.
This can create serious problems for teams—and especially for administrative professionals and the people they support. After all, how can you support someone and learn to anticipate their needs, if you’re not a part of the conversation and you don’t have enough visibility to even know the conversation is happening?
If these scenarios sound painfully familiar, here are some tips that may help.
1. Reduce the Number of Communication Channels
All too often, people tell me they miss important details because there’s just too many places where communication is happening. The same topic could be discussed by different people in different locations, and different decisions could be made. That kind of conflicting information makes it impossible to know how to execute.
While it’s nice to have options for how to communicate, it can also be messy. Do you really need all of these options? Are the different systems providing different value, or are they truly doing the same thing with a few different (but largely unnecessary) bells and whistles? Before adding a new tool, make sure it will provide enough unique value to offset the added confusion it’s likely to cause and management it’ll require.
Work with your leaders or team to determine if there are tools you’re currently using that are not necessary and not adding value.
2. Define How Different Tools Should Be Used
If you have a choice between sending an email or sending a Slack message, how do you choose which one is best? When should you schedule a meeting to discuss something versus chatting about it in Teams?
Sure, different people have their own preferences. But your preference doesn’t necessarily align with mine. And, if it’s up to the individual, how is anyone supposed to know where to find things? At that point, it’s anyone’s guess!
To create a standard, work with your leaders or team to define exactly how each communication channel should be used.
- When speed is the most important factor, pick up the phone.
- For casual, non-urgent conversations, use Slack.
- When formality and documentation are the most important factors, send an email.
- When context is critical or disagreements are likely, schedule a meeting.
Your rules may be different, but you get the idea.
You may also want to include more general standards like:
- Everyone on the team will be thoughtful about who to involve in conversations, balancing inclusivity with a healthy respect for other people’s time.
While it might sound like overkill, consider documenting your standards—just for the sake of clarity and accountability.
This doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to be communicated. It probably won’t fix all of your problems; but it may help people be more intentional.
3. Request Visibility (at Least)
If your job relies on having insight into what people are doing and talking about, you need visibility. Administrative professionals, for example, need to know what their leaders are discussing and committing to. Even if you’re not directly involved in the conversation, you need to be a fly on the wall. Because ultimately, it’s your job (as a support professional) to help that leader follow through on those commitments and push those discussions to their next steps.
If you’re relying on the leader to communicate everything directly to you, things will get lost in the shuffle. There is just no way you will have what you need to be successful, and it will waste a lot of time for the leader.
You need to be in meetings and be included in electronic communications, wherever they take place. The leader needs to know that, but everyone else does as well. The leader should tell people to include you and, when they forget, the leader should add you.
I know from first-hand experience (and the experience of my many clients and training participants) that it can take time for leaders to warm up to this idea. It requires a high degree of trust to have someone looking over your shoulder—in your email inbox, your Slack conversations, your Teams chats, and so on. This is especially true if the leader uses things like email for personal life business as well…which we all do from time to time.
Be patient but persistent. ASK for the visibility you need to be successful. And keep asking.
This is just going to become more and more important as communication continues to be distributed in multiple channels. If it’s happening outside of your view, you can’t do anything with it. It’s your responsibility to educate people about what you need, and their responsibility to help get it to you.
To be clear, this is true for people in all roles, not only Admins. If you discover that important conversations have taken place without you, and you should have been involved, don’t get offended—just ask the group to include you. If you get pushback, remind them that visibility helps you do your job. Relying on others to relay information wastes everyone’s time and creates unnecessary confusion.
4. Prioritize face-to-face check-ins
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, frequent face-to-face communication is a must—now more than ever. It’s really the only way to make sure things aren’t falling through the cracks. No matter how well your leaders and your teams are trained, there’s still a lot going on and it’s easy to unintentionally leave people out of the loop or accidentally miss an important conversation.
You don’t know what you don’t know; hold regular meetings to discuss updates and share progress. These kinds of face-to-face check-ins should happen frequently within teams, and between admins and the person or people they support. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out affair. A 10-minute stand-up meeting is usually sufficient. You can each call attention to something another person might have missed or not been privy to, and you can help provide more visibility on those things when needed.
The only way to overcome the modern communication challenges we all face is to deal with them head-on. Talk about what’s happening and how things can be improved. Your team and your leaders will thank you for it.