We’re using videoconferencing more than ever, but constant communication isn’t the same as effective communication.
The Benjamin Franklin idiom that there’s nothing certain except death and taxes could be amended to include one more certainty: “communication” will always be listed as an area for improvement in your company’s employee feedback surveys.
The COVID situation has many of us on more videoconferences than we believed the internet was capable of supporting, leading to reports of “Zoom fatigue.” This is important: constant communication is not the same as effective communication.
Communication is consistently one of the lowest-scoring areas on employee feedback surveys and on client perception studies that our advisory team conducts on behalf of our clients. It’s almost never issues with technical expertise or low-quality deliverables. Instead, your clients tell us that their top challenges are responsiveness and communication overall. According to Zweig Group’s 2019 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey, oral and written communication skills and the ability to work well with others are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 consecutively in most important factors for performance reviews of a staff member; I do not believe we will see a change in this particular data point post-COVID.
With that, a few recommendations for exceptionally robust communication:
- Treat videoconferences more like in-person meetings when that is the intention of the meeting. Unlike a conference call, where it is possible to take notes or to multitask if your role is supporting the leader of the conversation or driver of the agenda, a videoconference is all-consuming. The universe has finally found a way to ensure undivided attention, which is not what the world has prepared us for in an era of constant emails, texts, and social media update notifications, which I think is causing some to experience videoconference anxiety and exhaustion.
- Communicate expectations and protocol for meetings and calls of all varieties. This means sharing an agenda or topics to cover in advance as well as any material that those attending the meeting should arrive prepared to discuss. Assign a point person for different tasks in advance of the meeting – who will be taking notes, who will lead the conversation on certain topics, why you have invited certain team members to the meeting, etc. If someone will be taking notes or using their computer to support the conversation by pulling up files during a videoconference with a client, I’ve found it effective to let them know this (so it doesn’t look like you have a disinterested colleague checking email during a call).
- Share examples of fantastic communication with your team. During a recent internal training for our staff at ZG, I actually shared examples of great emails that our project managers sent to clients and diagrammed why this communication was effective. Not only did this call attention to a job well done, it also provided multiple examples of “voices” and communication styles, which is important for less-confident project managers and writers as they find their own way to convey information.
- This is an important time to ask your colleagues, clients, and stakeholders how their own capacity has changed since you’ve started working together and how their communication needs have shifted. Even if you’ve worked together for years, you’ve never worked under these circumstances. Asking this question will give you the insight to better engage with someone whose engagement is important to you while extending some much-needed graciousness in the process.
- Communicating your own needs and capacity shifts – and energy drains – is just as important. For example, one consequence of the videoconference onslaught for me has been a completely abysmal lack of control over my email inbox, so I’ve asked co-workers to help me out a bit by sharing the urgency level of the email or needed response time.
The real tip for great communication is to build a culture of trust and collaboration so people – internally and externally – feel comfortable and secure in sharing information and asking questions. And once you execute on all of this and work intentionally to constantly learn how to better communicate with your company, rest assured that you will still receive lower scores than you want to receive in your employee satisfaction surveys for communication, and don’t for a minute give up learning how to improve.
Jamie Claire Kiser is managing principal and director of advisory services at Zweig Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zweig Group’s 2020 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey Report of AEC Firms provides you with industry statistics on policies and procedures, so you can support your policy decisions with hard data.