At the ground level, every business’ competitive advantage has roots in the skills of their employees, but I would argue that most of the time a company’s success doesn’t actually have to do with the employee’s hard skills; instead, it has to do more with their soft skills: how everything behind the hard skills is managed; how teams work together; how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Your company may have top talent, but if everybody argues - or worse - doesn’t talk to each other, then it’s hard to be productive in helping to generate revenue. I’ve worked with coworkers, clients, and stakeholders on projects where problems could have been solved 10x faster if we understood each other and asked more questions, which is why I believe communication is the #1 asset your company should focus on if you want to be the best in the game.
We’ve identified three focus areas of communication: What, Why, and When! Let’s dive in.
Clearly we all know that at a base level, communication is a necessity. We need it to survive, make friends, and do just about everything important in life. That’s not the communication I’m talking about. I’m talking about the “right” way to communicate in a business setting, which also transfers over to a #WFH model. Communicating in a business sense can involve making sure the team is aware of current project statuses and understanding what each task involves, understanding what others are working towards, and how the company is fairing.
I’m going to throw out a powerful opinion here, and even if you don’t agree with it 100%, I hope it sparks new thoughts:
Communicating is the most important thing that you can do in the workplace. It’s more important than how good you are at your actual job.
Let’s roleplay how communication can be effective and non-effective. You’ve landed a new role at a top agency in your industry, you’ve worked hard to make this new career move, and your first day will be working alongside C-suite level leaders in the company. As the days turn into months you’ve noticed a breakdown in communication among your team. You’ve noticed two employees in particular: Mark and Jennifer. Jennifer has more advanced skills than Mark when it comes to the hard skills of their profession, but when Jennifer runs into a problem, she tries to overcome challenges before mentioning anything to you. This might seem admirable, but sometimes this involves Jennifer searching for project details for upwards of three days before she tells you about the problem.
On the flip side, Mark doesn’t have as much expertise as Jennifer, but when he faces a problem, he quickly communicates to you that he’s run into a roadblock. BOOM - that communication gives you the opportunity to intervene and provide guidance on how Mark should proceed. As you progress in your new position, you’ll know about lessons learned from other employees and can share this insight with Mark. On the other hand, you could direct Mark to spend three days researching just like Jennifer would - but the important thing to note here is you knew exactly what Mark had to accomplish, compared to Jennifer.
Before we dig into when to communicate, let’s explore why you should communicate with your team and other business executives.
There are plenty of reasons why communicating is important in a company setting, but I’ve narrowed it down to the top three reasons:
If others know what you’re working on, that’s a good thing. It means your teammates will feel confident that you are actively contributing to the business operations (thus improving office morale), you’ll have less of a chance of being tasked with more work than is expected of you, and it reduces the chance of duplicating work between teams.
Clevyr Tip: Keep an updated project management system like Azure, to allow all employees to access and utilize task organization and direction. It provides a truly transparent experience for the company, but remember - it’s only useful if it’s being used by all team members, including leadership.
You’re probably familiar with a situation where something negative occurs and it’s not 100% clear whose fault it is. There could have been a report given to the client that was incorrect, or a project missed its deadline and/or exceeded the budget, or not everyone was prepared for a crucial project meeting. Whatever the case is, always communicate any concerns on your end to whoever needs to know (e.g. superiors, clients, project managers or peers), then it will be much harder to blame you for any mishaps when the team determines what went wrong.
Lastly, nobody likes surprises in the workplace. Even if the surprise is positive such as a quick turnaround for implementing a new software application or providing creative design branding with minimal changes from a client - one of the most important ways you can communicate is to manage expectations for others. If you know a task will take two weeks to complete and you need your employees to collaborate extensively, then communicate that upfront.
With our example above, maybe it will just take one week to complete - and if that’s the case, then the client may be happy if you come in ahead of schedule, but they also may not have been ready for it so soon and could feel pressured to accommodate your team’s timeline. On the opposite end, if you deliver your task after three weeks without giving the client any information about the delay, then you can guarantee the client will not be pleased. It’s all about making sure others know what to expect, and when to expect it. If you can match those up together, then you’ll be successful in project development and creating a calm place for employees to express themselves.
Clevyr Tip: In the end, the thing people usually care about most, isn’t how long something takes; they care about knowing when to expect the final product. Be honest about timelines and trust your project management department.
Now that we know why you should communicate in the first place, let’s talk about when you should communicate to increase effectiveness and delivery.
Clevyr Tip: If you’re ever curious if you should communicate something, the answer will typically be “yes.” That being said, there are a few explicit guidelines to help you understand the perfect moments to confer.
Communicating when good things happen is the easiest time to speak up, and if you’re just starting out with improving your communication in the workplace, this is a perfect initiation time. Everyone loves good news and fun updates, even non-work related like adopting a new fur baby. If your client was incredibly happy with what you delivered, then tell your squad about the feedback! Not only do you deserve to be noticed by leadership, but there’s plenty of good business reasons for other teammates to know about a “win” within the organization.
When you share information, it helps everyone get a better understanding of the current status of the relationship with that client, which could lead to the business development team landing a new contract and thus generating more revenue. It’s a win-win situation! Don’t be humble now.
Here’s the tough one. No one wants to share bad news, but deep down we all know that we need to. If you know you’re going to miss a deadline or go over budget, you need to share it immediately with your project lead. Not doing so is stepping into reprimanding territory - and that’s a place no one wants to step into. Don’t wait until sh*t hits the fan to express your thoughts, because usually there are plenty of signs to look for indicating a project is heading in a less-than-ideal direction. Communicate affairs before they develop into real obstacles, and while red flags are not always easy to spot, you’ll learn the signs over time as you progress in your career. If your task is dependent on an employee finishing before you can start, and they exceed the due date, communicate the new timeline to the stakeholders. It doesn’t mean your ratting anyone out; it only means you’re invested in keeping everyone aware of the current situation. If you’re struggling with a task and have seemed to hit a wall in finding out the answer, start the conversation. Be proactive and talk to your project team; don’t delay progress for three days before talking to anyone. When in doubt, over-communicate.
Yes, you read that right: communicate when nothing is happening. This might sound like a typo, but it’s one of the most valuable ways to communicate. Here’s why: if nothing’s going on in your sphere of work, then you might feel like there’s nothing to discuss - but not everyone is aware of your department's progress, which means it’s your job to inform parts of the organization.
Let’s say you’ve hit a blocker on the new ABC Virtual Reality project and need stakeholder approval before the VR training can be delivered, and you sent an email to the stakeholder a week ago. You might think that because you haven’t received a response yet, there’s nothing to share with your project team. However, that’s flawed thinking. If your superiors notice you’re working on other projects, they may think you are unable to prioritize tasks because you’re not working on the ABC Virtual Reality program, and whether or not your boss talks to you about it, that’s a problem. It’s mismanaged expectations.
Now let’s say a few days after you sent the stakeholder email, you informed your boss that you haven't received a response. Now everyone is completely informed, and not only are expectations aligned with your work, but the leadership executives may be able to play a role in helping to expedite feedback from the stakeholder, which can lead to a quicker delivery on the project as a whole (and thus a happier client). Or in some cases, your boss may know exactly what you need to continue working regardless if the stakeholder responds in a timely fashion.
If you notice someone is doing well at their job, let them or their boss know. At Clevyr, we’ve incorporated a team “Kudos” channel into our internal communication platform. Employees can send positive feedback to each other for all to see, it’s a wonderful morale booster and encourages team unity. If you have a problem and want a second set of eyes for review, ask for help. Reach out to someone you haven’t interacted with in a while and ask them how they’re doing. It’s as easy as that. There’s usually never a bad time to communicate, and there’s no limit to what that communication can entail. You just have to do it.
Senior Software Developer, Clevyr
The Code Boss