Curing communication overload in the age of remote working

Remote working is becoming increasingly common across Europe.

The upshot for businesses is that they need to gear up to enable more effective communication and collaboration among employees working from home and other off-site locations – or they risk falling productivity.

Global research conducted by Clarizen found that 70% of the 300 companies surveyed have employees working from home or remotely on a regular basis. The findings also indicated that those not prepared to adjust to a more scattered workforce face the threat of decreased productivity due to poor communication and collaboration between those working in the office and those off-site. The research showed that only 16% of the companies surveyed said productivity levels were ‘Excellent’, while 81% said their attempts to improve workplace communication had failed to improve productivity.

So many apps, so little time

To foster collaboration among colleagues spread across far-flung locations and even time zones, while maintaining productivity, many businesses have turned to technology that facilitates easy and frequent staff communication. Many businesses have rushed to adopt a range of communication tools and practices that promise to boost employee communication, without any strategy or a needs analysis of what might be the best fit for the company’s culture.

Some have adopted general communication applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook to capitalise on the promise of easy communications that reduce the need for lengthy, and ofttimes confusing, email chains. Others have deployed more business-specific communication apps. The survey found that in the past year, companies deployed one or more of the following communication tools to improve productivity:

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

Use of these tools means employees are now contactable virtually anywhere and anytime and, as a result, many workplaces are now flooded with an endless stream of messages, emails, alerts, updates and meeting requests – not to mention non-work-related chit-chat.

The scourge of ‘Communication Overload’

The trouble is the use of these tools often actually complicates employee interactions, causes communication fatigue, leads to confusion over priorities and hampers productivity – especially when multiple apps are being used.

The result is a modern workplace malady: ‘Communication Overload’, which has broken out in offices across the globe as workers struggle under the weight of clusters of unfocused messages and an ‘always-on’ culture. Instead of boosting efficiency, the use of these communication channels within many organisations can become a hurdle to effective employee collaboration and productivity.

And it is not just remote working that is impacted by communication overload. Dispersed businesses – especially international organisations with teams spread across geographies and time zones – are among the hardest hit by communication overload because they receive notifications throughout the day and potentially on weekends, as workweeks can differ from region to region.

As enticing as business communication tools are in terms of user experience, simplicity and delivery, it is clear from the research 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: 70% of the organisations surveyed by Clarizen admitted they need to go beyond creating additional lines of communication and facilitate better collaboration among employees, so they can work together to meet objectives, coordinate activities and monitor progress.

Bringing productivity back

For businesses looking to tackle communication overload and ensure more effective collaborating among remote workers head-on, there are remedies to communication overload:

  • Provide a communication tool that ties workplace tasks to business functions and improves the coordination of workflow.
  • Integrate existing tools, such as Slack, 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 following-up on and assessing what is going on and more time completing actual work.
  • Deploy a collaborative platform that updates information in real time and provides holistic view of progress on tasks, resources, deadlines and other key deliverables.

Being able to offer flexible working is imperative for organisations aiming to attract the very best talent and to make the best use of its people.  Businesses need to focus on streamlining communications and enabling more effective collaboration – regardless of where people are working. The way to do this is by employing an end-to-end collaborative platform that focuses the exchange of relevant messages and allows teams to track and feed into ongoing activity, thus boosting productivity and business agility.

David Goulden

David Goulden is product director at Clarizen, which provides collaborative work management software for project managers and other teams in large enterprises. He is product owner for financial planning, portfolio management and enterprise integrations.  During his career, David has gained experience in strategy, sales, marketing, customer success, product development and project management at Clarizen and other leading tech companies, including CoolaData, Zend Technologies, and Cellpay.