Why Is Workplace Communication Important? And How to Improve It

Written by Coursera • Updated on

The ability to exchange information and ideas at work is an essential skill in many roles. Learn more about what makes workplace communication so important and how to improve your communication skills.

[Featured image] Two coworkers, one holding a cup of coffee and the other a tablet, discuss a work project while standing in an office.

Workplace communication is the exchange of information between employees in a work environment. This includes face-to-face conversations, emails, chat messages, videoconferencing, phone calls, and other methods used to convey information in the workplace. Nonverbal communication like eye contact, body language, and tone of voice are also important aspects of workplace communication.

Why is communication important in the workplace?

Good communication in the workplace ensures employees have the information they need to perform well, builds a positive work environment, and eliminates inefficiencies. Effective communication should accurately convey information while maintaining or improving human relationships.

Miscommunication has real consequences for a business. A survey conducted by Expert Market found that 28 percent of employees listed poor communication as the reason why they weren’t able to finish projects on time [1]. Miscommunication costs businesses with at least 100 employees approximately $450,000 or more a year on average [2].

How has COVID-19 changed what workplace communication looks like?

COVID-19 has made many jobs remote-friendly and accelerated the digitization of communication channels in the workplace. This means there’s more interaction on video conferencing tools like Zoom and messaging channels like Slack or WhatsApp. 

In some cases, this has also meant a shift in communication culture. Some organizations have started to move away from traditional top-down approaches to more lateral communication styles where employees are encouraged to participate in cross-company conversations. 

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How to improve communication in the workplace

Workplace communication starts at the individual but doesn’t stop there. Work culture, technology, and protocols can all play into how effective communication is in your workplace.

Here are some ways you can improve workplace communication:

1. Work on individual communication skills.

Communicating effectively with coworkers is key to having a positive experience at work. If you’re trying to bolster your communication skills as an individual, here are a few things to keep in mind as you interact with coworkers:

  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Tone and body language can convey a lot that words don’t. As you’re speaking with somebody, pay attention to your tone and body language and your partner’s. Tone can be harder to discern in text-based communications. If you struggle to understand somebody’s email or chat communication, suggest an alternative method such as video conferencing or meeting in person.

  • Listen. Communication goes both ways. Practice active listening by internalizing what you hear and paying attention to the intent and emotion behind what you’re being told. 

  • Provide constructive feedback. Being a part of a team means everybody’s work should be respected. If you’re providing feedback, keep a balance between what’s working and what can be improved.

  • Participate in meetings. Come to meetings prepared by reviewing the agenda or previous notes to understand what’s being discussed, and start thinking about how you can contribute. Pay attention to what’s being said, take notes if you need to, and ask relevant questions.

If you’re a manager, you might consider a communication skills workshop for your team.

2. Understand which method to use.

Not every issue deserves its own meeting. When you have something to communicate, consider its importance, urgency, and complexity, and pick the right channel accordingly. Have a simple team reminder? A quick group message or email can get the point across. Need to learn or teach somebody how to use a tool? A face-to-face meeting might be the better method. It can be a good idea to establish team-wide practices about when to use which channel of communication.

If your workplace needs some technological updates, consider approaching your manager to see if the organization is willing to invest in some. Plenty of chat platforms, email providers, and video conferencing tools can significantly improve communication flow.

3. Make meetings efficient.

Research indicates that only 50 percent of time spent in meetings is considered a good use of time by attendees [3]. The good news? There are probably several ways to improve how meetings are run in your organization.

Here are some best practices to make meetings efficient and effective:

  • Set an agenda and goals for each meeting. Try to avoid recycling agendas.

  • Send out the agenda and other materials that will be discussed, such as presentations, to the team ahead of time, so people have the chance to review them.

  • Only invite people who need to be invited.

  • Consider if a meeting is the best way to communicate something in the first place.

  • Cancel a meeting if it doesn’t need to happen.

  • Make sure technical equipment is functioning ahead of time.

  • Start and end meetings on time.

  • Share out meeting notes afterward.

4. Create an open culture.

Creating a trusting environment is key to good communication in a workplace. People should feel comfortable voicing concerns, asking questions, and contributing their ideas. 

  • Set up bi-weekly or monthly lunch meetings or activities like happy hours or off-sites to give employees a chance to relax and get to know each other as humans. This can help build trust and create a more supportive work environment. 

  • Offer different ways of participating. Communication styles can differ from person to person. While some aren’t shy about participating in large meetings, others might prefer to ask questions in text-based forums. Mix up how you receive feedback and ideas to make sure you hear from as many voices as possible.

  • Involve remote workers. Though remote working has become increasingly common, people still need and want personal human interaction. Chat platforms like Slack can allow informal conversations that connect in-person and remote workers. You can also consider starting remote-friendly office activities, such as a book club.

You don't have to be in a leadership position to create changes in work culture. Start by seeking out these opportunities yourself. Suggest grabbing lunch with coworkers, joining a work club—or starting your own.

5. Schedule regular one-to-one and team meetings.

Recurring meetings can give space for employees to bring up concerns they otherwise wouldn’t know when to bring up. If they aren’t already, suggest setting up one-to-one meetings consistently with your direct supervisor (or direct reports). Consistent team meetings can also allow team members to share concerns more widely and solicit input from others.

Though it’s okay to cancel a meeting if there's no agenda, try to refrain from canceling too often. This might erode trust among employees and take away valuable time for employees to surface questions.

Improving communication skills

Communication skills are called skills for a reason—they can be learned and require practice to master. If you’re trying to bring your communication skills to the next level, consider enrolling in a course like Improving Communication Skills from the University of Pennsylvania or Teamwork Skills: Communicating Effectively in Groups from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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 Article sources

1. Expert Market. “The Importance of Effective Workplace Communication- Statistics for 2022, https://www.expertmarket.com/phone-systems/workplace-communication-statistics." Accessed May 23, 2022.

2. Debra Hamilton.  “Top 10 Email Blunders That Cost Companies Money,    https://fliphtml5.com/eadm/btcd/basic.” Accessed May 23, 2022.

3. Forbes. “Half Of All Meetings Are a Waste of Time-Here’s How To Improve Them,   https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterhigh/2019/11/25/half-of-all-meetings-are-a-waste-of-timeheres-how-to-improve-them/?sh=1f2844ef2ea9." Accessed May 23, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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