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Communicate Better With Employees, Regardless of Where They Work
Workplace

Communicate Better With Employees, Regardless of Where They Work

Story Highlights

  • Many employees are reluctant to give up remote work flexibility
  • The hybrid work model allows for flexibility and increased collaboration
  • Gallup's Communication Index helps companies improve communication

The pandemic created the world's biggest unplanned experiment in remote work, and the lab results are in.

As Gallup predicted early on, most employees are reluctant to give up their newfound flexibility: SHRM says 52% of workers want to stay 100% remote, and 35% would accept a pay cut if that's what it takes to keep working from home. Morning Consult says half of all millennials and Gen Zers (and 39% overall) would quit for a more flexible job.

Some leaders aren't sold on remote work, though, which has led to a compromise model: the hybrid workplace in which people work from home part of the week and on-site the rest. The theory is that this model permits workers the flexibility they want while preserving their opportunities for collaboration, enculturation and communication.

Well, remote-skeptics, rejoice: A hybrid workplace probably won't hurt communication (or collaboration or enculturation, for that matter). As every global company demonstrates, people don't need to see each other -- or even hear each other -- to communicate well. Employees can learn from and influence others at great distances.

But -- as Gallup research demonstrates -- most don't, on-site or not.

  • 7% of U.S. workers strongly agree that communication is accurate, timely and open where they work.
  • 26% of employees strongly agree that their manager's feedback helps them do better work.
  • 22% strongly agree that their leaders have a clear direction for the organization.
  • Four out of five start looking for a new job when they get negative feedback from a manager.

Not Where They Are, but What They Hear

Those results come from a Gallup study on the effect of communication in organizations, which also found that employees who work in an environment where communication is open, timely and accurate are more engaged and demonstrate a greater intent to stay with the organization.

In fact, communication was found to be so impactful that Gallup conducted an extensive analysis of reliability, validity and item redundancy of communication survey questions and built a tool -- the Communication Index -- that companies can use to examine information flow in their organization so they know how to improve communication and, latterly, performance. Most clients use it to accelerate their engagement programs.

However, further research revealed that communication in most companies isn't great. Sometimes it's so bad that it drives people to quit.

Mind you, those are pre-pandemic results, collected when almost everyone worked on-site.

Further research revealed that communication in most companies isn't great. Sometimes it's so bad that it drives people to quit.

That sounds grim, but there's something positive hidden behind the data: It's not where employees are, but what they hear, that matters more.

Therefore, leaders of hybrid organizations don't have to develop new forms of communication that vanquish distance or squish all of their employees' interactions into on-site days.

It's rather a relief, except for one thing.

Though companies don't have to communicate differently in a hybrid model, they definitely ought to communicate better.

Better Communication Begins With These Three Elements

Better communication starts with the bare basics of information as identified by the Communication Index: accuracy, openness and timeliness.

These three elements are so vital that at the beginning of the pandemic, Gallup released a Leadership Audit drawn directly from our proprietary science and made it openly available for anyone to use. It only had four questions, and two of them were about accurate, timely, open information (the other two were about feeling cared for and well-prepared).

The most important type of communication, however, is about what's expected of employees.

Businesses aren't generally spectacular at communicating expectations -- only about half of all workers strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work (it's significantly worse in scientific, technical and computer-related jobs). Yet, expectations are so crucial that they're the foundation of the Gallup Q12 engagement assessment.

The best way, maybe the only way, to communicate expectations is through frequent manager/employee conversations.

The most important type of communication, however, is about what's expected of employees.

Some good habits can juice those conversations in a hybrid world. Gallup strongly encourages managers to schedule conversations with remote workers at least once a week because chats left to chance can fall off the radar. HBR recommends having people contribute their ideas in a shared document during virtual meetings to ensure collaboration and accountability. LinkedIn says leaders should "facilitate interconnection between work efforts, assess what support is required, and most importantly, check in on how they are doing -- personally and professionally."

But content and consistency are key, and managers who learn how to conduct the conversations that matter are very likely to improve engagement -- employees are 2.8 times likelier to be engaged, for instance, when they regularly talk to their manager about their goals and successes.

Communication That Influences Performance

Over time, those conversations fuel a positive feedback loop of communication. They build relationships and trust. They spur success. But they've never required propinquity.

Managers who learn how to conduct the conversations that matter are very likely to improve engagement.

Seriously, never. Businesses have been asynchronous and distanced since business was invented. Archeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of messages between coworkers scratched onto clay tablets in cuneiform, dating back thousands of years -- including some crabby feedback from a disengaged B2B customer, proving some things never change. Most of our communication today is digital even when in-person talk is possible. (Doubt it? Count your emails.)

Hybrid work isn't new. In many ways, it's actually the norm.

Effective communication is not the norm, but it could be. During the pandemic, many leaders learned a whole new level of transparency, timeliness and empathy. Those are great traits in a communicator, and leaders should keep them.

Above all, don't worry about communication in a hybrid workplace -- because it's not where employees are that matters. It's what they hear.

Create a culture of communication where the employee experience remains consistent.

Author(s)

Jennifer Robison is a Senior Editor at Gallup.


Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/351644/communicate-better-employees-regardless-work.aspx
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