10 minute read – Posted by – October 7, 2020

Closing the organizational communication gap with remote work teams

At 7Geese, it’s our belief that conversations are the biggest driver of the success of a company’s performance management program.

I’m certainly not going to break any new ground if I start talking about the shift to remote work, especially after the last eight months. What’s interesting to me though is the effect this is having on communication. 

In a recent live webinar, we offered a first look at some of the features we have been working on in response to the changing needs of teams. These product changes were carried out based on the feedback we continue to receive from our customers, as well as the challenges we observe in our team environments. I wanted to share some of the ideas that are driving these changes and how customer concerns shape our product development. 

Enabling more and better low bandwidth communication

All of the really great high bandwidth communication that used to happen is now much rarer than it has ever been. High bandwidth communication is usually face-to-face; the reason why it’s high bandwidth is that so much information is being transmitted. It’s not just the words coming out of my mouth but also my facial expression and other non-verbal cues. 

There’s a ton of information that gets transmitted when you have a face-to-face conversation. When you have low bandwidth communication — things like email, chat, or asynchronous video — a lot of that gets lost. 

Recently I read that a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than just sending an email or Slack message. As we shift to more low bandwidth communications we’re going to see some major challenges start to happen when it comes to communication. 

Collaborating remotely and participating in more cross-functional work 

With our current low-bandwidth and often asynchronous realities, collaboration is going to be tougher.  Connecting is going to take real work, rather than it just happening organically. It’s harder to create accountability and it’s much easier to misunderstand what is being said. With remote work, we really have to take advantage of the moments and conversations we have. 

There’s more cross-functional work happening than ever and more of a reliance on teams, which is fine when we think about it in a very small group. 84% percent of managers say they can rely on their boss, their direct reports, and their peers, all or most of the time. What gets interesting though is that between business units, it’s much less. 

Only about nine percent of managers say they can rely on their colleagues and other functions or business units, and half say they can rely on them most of the time. That’s about the same as for an external vendor. People have the same amount of trust in other functional units as they do with an external supplier or distributor. As teams become more important, this is going to become a bigger and bigger issue. 

Meeting the challenge of information overload

Another trend we’re starting to see is the idea of information overload and the increasing number of tools being used by knowledge workers. There’s a huge cost to that information overload:

  • People get distracted 
  • They’re making more errors 
  • They’re trying to multitask against a whole bunch of things 
  • They’re running around trying to triage any issue that comes up 

As a result, employees are accomplishing less and therefore businesses are accomplishing less. Strategic priorities are taking a back seat to small, attention-grabbing tasks. 

The nut here is that work is becoming more complex and will continue to become more complex as these trends accelerate. As work becomes more complex, employees are struggling to keep up and execute. 

Treating the root problems, not the symptoms

In my job, I talk to a lot of prospects and a lot of existing customers of our performance management tools. Often what they’re talking about are the symptoms to the above problems: 

  • Missed goals
  • Misalignment or duplication of work
  • A lack of visibility, focus, or accountability 
  • Low employee engagement or churn 

To us, those are all merely symptoms, though. The real root of this execution problem is an organizational communication gap. 

What is an organizational communication gap? 

We think about this problem across three different vectors: 

  • The first is vertical —that is, between a leadership group and the rest of the organization, and really the other way too — the way the organization communicates back up to a leadership group
  • We also think about it horizontally, between functional units, and the ways they communicate and align, or the challenges that they have
  • Lastly we consider intra-team communication, between a manager and their employees or in an empowered team, between employees themselves

What we’re seeing is that managers and peers often have a really hard time having challenging conversations, being vulnerable, recognizing achievement, and giving clear direction. That’s what we’re talking about in terms of an organizational communication gap.

Having better conversations and closing the gap 

At 7Geese, we spend a ton of time thinking and talking about how to help companies have better conversations and close this communication gap. What makes for good conversation is really no different than our personal life. 

I think about the great conversations I’ve had with family or with friends. What is it about those conversations that become meaningful? First of all, they’re interactive. It’s talking with someone not at them. It’s a two-way conversation. I’m listening and responding and so are they. It’s intimate. You’re speaking directly, with authenticity. It’s built on trust and there’s not a lot of bias there. 

Most importantly, it’s interesting and there’s an investment in the conversation. It’s a conversation with intention. 

Creating the space for listening with intention

 My wife often tells me that she often just wants me to listen to the problem. Not to solve it, just to listen. That way, there’s a real intention to that conversation that we need to share. It has to be a shared agenda. When we have different views about what that conversation is going to be is when things start to break down. 

Intention means having that shared agenda, with a lot of background and understanding and psychological safety between the two participants. It’s inclusive and there’s no power imbalance between the two people.

In business that means conversations can be bottom-up and employee-owned and that there’s a shared language that both people really understand. 

Continuing to develop better ways to communicate in our current work environments

At 7Geese we’re working hard to give you the context, content, and tools to have these better conversations. Better conversations are the way that employees perform better and actually grow within their careers. That’s why we obsess so much over these challenges and endeavor to build tools to help overcome them. 

As I mentioned above, much of the Product road mapping we do is driven by customer feedback. To find out about the changes we are introducing in response to these needs, watch our full quarterly product demo and Q&A webinar. You can skip the first nine minutes though, as you’ve just read through the thoughts I share before demoing the new product features. 

As always, if you’d like to see 7Geese in action and learn more about how we can help you with your goal-setting, performance management, and internal communication needs, schedule a demo of 7Geese

Ben Kaye

Director of Product at 7Geese