A deep dive into employee communication

Working together is more than just doing the same job or having shared goals. For a team of professionals to achieve optimum productivity and synergy, they must first achieve effective communication.

Employee communication is an essential part of the workflow that traditional business policies often overlook. 

Management typically has a clear vision of how they want to share information with employees. Still, they may need to consider the nuances necessary for fostering productive communication between team members and departments. 

Today, we're taking a deep dive into employee communication and how to build a stronger communication flow for your team.

What is employee communication?

Employee communication is exchanging information, ideas, and feedback between an organization, its employees, and team members. 

This give-and-take includes many forms of communication, such as meetings, project collaboration, social engagement, and dialogue between leaders and their teams. 

It encompasses all the necessary communication required for people to work together, whether collaborating on the same task to meet a greater goal or coordinating tasks that rely on one another to create a completed project.

Employee communication is at the heart of company culture. It plays a crucial role as it influences how employees interact, including when and how communication occurs, what topics arise, and the prevailing attitude. 

Employee communication factors into every aspect of working life, and by paying attention, leaders can actively shape employee communication's impact on individual teams and the business as a whole.

Employee communication vs. internal communication

It’s helpful to understand the distinction between internal communication vs. employee communication. 

Internal communication 

  • Refers to exchanging information within the organization, including how companies broadcast messages to their employees.
  • Announcements, memos, newsletters, and signage all play a role.
  • Rask assignment platforms and communication primarily used for employees to receive messages are all examples of internal communication.

Employee communication 

  • It is a subset of internal communication that focuses explicitly on exchanging information between the organization and its employees and among the employees.
  • While employee communication falls under the umbrella of internal communication, it goes beyond the scope of what most businesses typically consider when planning an internal communication strategy.
  • Employee communication includes top-down and bottom-up communication between managers and their teams and peer-to-peer interactions that foster collaboration, knowledge sharing, and teamwork.

Why employee communication is so important

Employee communication is a vital part of each employee experience. It influences engagement, teamwork, understanding, and inclusion. 

Communication is critical to productivity, work friendships, and even a team's ability to innovate.
The more business leaders understand employee communication, the better they can guide the potential for positive influence, such as: 

Enhancing team flow and synergy

Teams that communicate well work together with flow and synergy. They understand their role and the roles of their teammates and organize their activities to complement one another's performance. 

Sharing progress, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, and using different types of communication help build and align a strong team.

Inviting creativity and innovation

Creativity flourishes when you can express your most out-there ideas, only to discover that others agree with your perspective. This potential stems from the ability to convey your thoughts and having the support, camaraderie, and open forum necessary to share your creative inner self.

Open communication fosters an environment where individuals feel encouraged to share their unique ideas and perspectives without fear of judgment or criticism. 

When people can express themselves freely and engage in open dialogue, they can build upon each other's thoughts, generating innovative solutions. 

Moreover, skillful communication allows for the cross-pollination of ideas across different disciplines and backgrounds, further enhancing the potential for creativity and innovation.

Preventing misunderstandings and bottlenecks

Clear and practiced communication can prevent misunderstandings. Leaders often use skills found in Pip’s Team Tactics deck to provide clarity and direction, ensuring that each assignment is fully understood before it begins. Clear communication at the beginning and throughout a task can prevent misunderstandings, slow-downs, and bottlenecks later. 

Some quick tips: 

  • Build alignment: set clear expectations at the task’s outset and ensure everyone understands their responsibilities.
  • Design vision & principles: ensure everyone shares the same vision and understands the project's technical requirements.
  • One-to-one: check in with your team to provide guidance and feedback.
  • Set up digital communication: enable asking questions, raising issues, or requesting feedback on a platform accessible to all stakeholders.

Improving employee engagement

Once effective communication is part of teamwork, employees tend to feel more engaged and committed to delivering high-quality results. Openly discussing work, sharing ideas, and expressing enthusiasm for projects and innovative concepts reinforces their passion.

Fostering a positive company culture

A hallmark of a positive, inclusive company culture is open and engaging employee communication. 

Teams that foster a friendly atmosphere, where members can share jokes, collaborate efficiently, and communicate openly, create a more welcoming environment than teams that work in silence. 

By encouraging and facilitating effective communication among employees, companies can cultivate a culture of positivity, inclusivity, and teamwork, ultimately contributing to increased job satisfaction, productivity, and overall success.

Types of employee communication

How we communicate in the workplace can be classified into different categories. The types of employee communication differ based on the kind of work, the use of technology, remote and hybrid interactions, and schedules shared (or not shared) between team members.

In-person vs. virtual communication

Among the most important distinctions in employee communication is In-person vs. virtual communication.

In-person communication is a face-to-face, live conversation in which facial expression, tone of voice, and timing are crucial in conveying meaning alongside what is said.

Virtual communication encompasses all digital channels, from email to video conferences to chat apps where text, and perhaps emojis, do all of the talking. The message's meaning relies heavily on written and visual elements as cues.

One-way vs two-way communication

In one-way communication, information flows linearly from the sender to the receiver, primarily informing, persuading, or commanding the recipient.

One-way communication often includes updates, memos, and broadcasts when one person sends a message without expecting the recipient to answer. Like a voicemail, there may not even be an open channel for a return message.

On the other hand, two-way communication involves a feedback loop, where the receiver responds to the sender's message, ensuring that the message has been accurately understood and interpreted. This feedback mechanism allows for a more dynamic and interactive exchange between parties. There is a trading of ideas, with shared acknowledgment that communication has been received and understood.

One-way communication is almost always digital, while personal communication is almost always two-way.

Synchronous vs asynchronous communication

You can break it down into synchronous (simultaneous) or asynchronous (at different times) regarding digital, two-way communication.

Synchronous communication is like live chat or an email chain with nearly instant responses. Phone calls, video meetings, and in-person communication are also synchronous. Both people expect immediate responses and answers until the conversation ends.

Asynchronous communication is a two-way conversation where messages wait for the other person to notice and respond. A typical email exchange, a slow chat room, or a shared message board are all asynchronous. This can allow for more flexible collaboration between team workers who share questions and answers but don't have to be available online simultaneously.

One-on-one vs. group communication

One-on-one communication is usually a private conversation between two people. It can allow greater honesty, privacy, or focus, depending on the people and the subject of the conversation.

Managers often use one-on-one meetings to give and receive feedback.

Typically, group conversation is for shared tasks and collaboration between team members. 

A meeting or a shared chat thread are good examples of group communication where multiple people converse—synchronously or asynchronously—and respond to one another as a group.

Conversation vs collaboration

Then, there is the difference between conversation and collaboration.

In conversation, the purpose is to share information and, often, to connect personally. While some managers may overlook the value of simple conversation, excellent leaders recognize that its role in building relationships is highly valuable. 

Many people need to connect through conversing before they’re comfortable collaborating. Building genuine relationships also helps people to learn about the work styles of others. This understanding allows people to collaborate because they know what types of communication other people need and can present information effectively.   

In collaboration, the purpose is to share expertise and tasks. Effective communication allows team members to coordinate and progress toward a common goal.

Instead of a more flowing, developed conversation, a practiced, cohesive team may trade mainly in short phrases like

  • "I'm ready for the next part."  
  • "My edits are in." 
  • "Give me half of your stack."

This rapid communication style can dramatically boost productivity, especially when honed over time. For newly formed teams, establishing clear standards and expectations can make the difference between this communication style feeling to the point rather than abrupt.

Employee communication channels

The number of possible channels for communication is dizzying.

Employees can communicate through many different types of software and in many different styles in today's highly dynamic digital world:

  • Meetings and workshops: meeting in person to share information or collaborate on projects.
  • Emails: sending asynchronous, digital messages.
  • Texts / SMS: texting each other's mobile phones.
  • Video meetings: meeting virtually through telecommuting and video meeting software.
  • Employee live chat: holding live conversations over an intranet or internal chat app and building conversation groups.
  • Employee social media: using a company-provided, internal social media network.
  • Collaboration software: sharing project-related communication through comments, notes, and work highlights on a collaboration platform.
  • Message boarding: posting virtual flyers and memos on a shared digital message board.
  • Announcements: involve broadcasting or announcing plans, typically without the expectation of feedback.
  • Podcasts or webinars: some organizations use recorded content to communicate. updates and provide training.
  • Employee surveys: surveys can gather employee feedback on various aspects of their work environment, such as satisfaction, engagement, and opinions on company initiatives.
  • All-hands meetings: these are larger-scale meetings (sometimes referred to as a Town Hall) where leadership communicates updates, initiatives, and company-wide goals to employees, often allowing for Q&A sessions.
When choosing the right communication channel, consider the message's nature, urgency, audience, and formality.  Aligning the communication channel with the message type and audience's needs ensures precise, efficient, and well-received communication:
  • Face-to-face meetings or video conferences are ideal for complex topics or sensitive issues.
  • Email or instant messaging works for brief updates, quick questions, or when a written record is necessary.

Best practices: improving your team's communication

Comprehensive best practices for employee communication are on individual Pip Team Tactics deck cards.

But first, here are a few practices to help you foster a positive culture through employee communication right away:

Daily sharing

Make time each day for team members to share, perhaps during the morning coffee meeting, the evening wind down, or a shared lunch break. Both work updates and personal chatting bring team members closer when they have time to share each day.

Smaller team circles

Smaller teams can work more efficiently with less complex communication dynamics. Break up larger teams into small action-focused teams for improved communication and performance, encouraging free-flowing conversation and task-focused collaboration.

For instance, a small action-focused team might consist of a project manager, a creative designer, a copywriter, and a digital marketer (whereas the larger version might include PR, sales, social media, legal, and so on).

Share a vision and values

Get everyone on the same page. Share a vision of the completed project so everyone can visualize the same goals. Define team values so everyone knows which aspects of their work and the final results are the most important.

Align your efforts

Help your team stay aligned and on track. Encourage collaborative communication where coworkers keep each other updated on their progress and when shared work or teamwork will be needed. Coming together and staying aligned can make the team closer and boost efficiency.

Build psychological safety

Establish that everyone is safe to share their ideas and opinions in the workplace. There should be no punishment for simple mistakes or reprisal for helping a coworker fix an issue. Creativity is welcome, and everyone on the team can safely express themselves.

For example, if a junior developer feels safe to propose an alternative approach to solving a technical problem that the team has been struggling with for days, and the senior team members welcome the idea and help it (even though someone new brought it up), that builds a psychologically safe atmosphere.

Use plain language

People communicate in different ways. Not everyone shares the same way of thinking or the same first language. Speaking and writing plainly can enhance the quality of communication across any team. Avoid jargon and culturally specific expressions to state ideas as clearly and simply as possible.

For instance, instead of "Let's run it up the flagpole," say: "Let's discuss it with the team." Similarly, "We need to leverage our synergies" becomes "We need to make the most of our combined strengths."

Speak clearly and directly

Say what you mean. Employee communication works best when everyone says exactly what they mean respectfully—even if this means unlearning more indirect, gentle habits you were taught earlier in life. 

Being direct and respectful can avoid misunderstandings and ensure everyone is on the same page. This principle is helpful whether you’re requesting a completed report or a little personal space during lunchtime.

Explain roles and responsibilities

Ensure everyone clearly understands the roles and responsibilities of everyone on the team. This clarity makes it easier for each person to fulfill their duties and know who to ask when they need something outside their role.

Share personal working best practices

Share what helps you work best, and encourage others to do the same. Do you complete tasks better when they are sent by email? A coworker may need their music to really focus on work. Share your personal "user's manual" and learn the "manual" for others to enhance personalized communication quality.

Encourage autonomy

Collaboration at its best occurs when each person can complete their role independently while contributing to the collective effort.  Leaders should encourage trusting one another's capabilities and granting each other the freedom to work independently. 

Similarly, team members should expect to take ownership of their tasks and make decisions without constant oversight or micromanagement. 

Lead by example

Last but never least, a leader who models good employee communication practices will guide their team to do the same. Teams take cues from leadership to know what is expected and allowed in the work environment, allowing leaders to influence company culture, especially regarding communication.

Discover employee communication techniques with Pip Decks

For leaders and professionals looking to improve employee communication, the Pip Decks Team Tactics deck offers a range of helpful strategies.

This deck includes management techniques, philosophies, and best practices to foster engaging communication, understand your team, and enhance productivity.

Explore Team Tactics to discover strategies you can use immediately and throughout your career.

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