Communication challenges can pop up in any office setting. Even the best workplaces occasionally get bogged down in confusion and miscommunication. That’s been especially true this past year. When millions of workers immediately scattered from places of business to home offices, confusion was sure to arise.
So how do you minimize the impact of miscommunication? As with many other things, admitting there is a problem is an excellent first step. From there, you can take actionable steps. This article will lay out five guidelines for alleviating workplace confusion.
1. Make Knowledge Readily Available
One of the most frustrating causes of workplace confusion is when employees don’t even know what they don’t know. When a worker is able to clearly articulate a request for information they lack, that is an easy problem to solve. They simply have to be pointed in the right direction.
Strive to make every instance of office confusion this simple to solve by making shared knowledge readily available. Startups can stumble here because they tend to launch with a handful of people hard-wired with a lot of “obvious” information. It may never occur to them to document processes and procedures from the get-go. Later on, as employees are added, a lack of accessible documentation can result in the gears grinding to a halt.
Consider a shared file system, a corporate wiki, or a cloud storage solution to make business-related info accessible. Any of these solutions will allow people to look things up as they work. That means fewer slowdowns while they try to figure something out that has already been asked and answered. If confusion tends to come from staff not knowing specific things, jot down a quick note to add the information to your shared file system.
2. Simplify Communication
Of course, everyone needs to be aware that your knowledge-sharing solution exists. If you have concerns that this awareness is not shared by all, poor communication is likely the root cause. Startups frequently rely on impromptu conversations or meetings to solidify processes or convey important information. However, important conversations and instructions are obviously less effective when not everyone is around to hear them. More of your staff working remotely has almost certainly compounded this problem.
To get everyone on the same page, streamline your communication policies and channels. Choose one main communication channel for all work-related messages. Doing so will let people know where to look for specific details about projects they are working on. Also, make sure whatever channels you’re using are accessible to everyone, regardless of where their office is right now. There are few things more frustrating in a workday than feeling cut off from your team.
3. Know Everyone’s Role
The occasional scramble to reach a key team member when you need them is unavoidable, especially in smaller businesses and startups. However, unpleasant surprises and wasted time can be avoided by mapping out a clear, shared understanding of everyone’s role. Letting everyone know who does what should go well beyond simply listing their title and basic work functions.
In some workplaces, you might work with the same group of people every day. In others, you might work with a new team on every project. Either way, everyone needs to know what each person is expected to contribute. Hold an introductory meeting at the start of every project to establish the point person for each task. Not only will this prevent a lot of confusion, but it will also help projects run more efficiently.
4. Set Deadlines and Meet Them
Make sure that deadlines are clear and unambiguous. Every specific task should have a date and time associated with it. It’s not enough to send out an email and hope everyone reads it. As appropriate, ask each team member to sign off on their assigned deadlines or make any needed adjustments. Use the communication channels you’ve established to inform everyone which milestones are expected and when.
Once deadlines have been clearly communicated, it’s vital they be met or adjustments be communicated to every member of the team. Once you’ve obtained mutual agreement, be sure to enter all milestones and delivery dates/times into the project management system your company has selected. Deadlines without teeth are meaningless, and few things deflate morale faster than a team member consistently missing the mark on deliverables.
5. Keep Employee Calendars Connected and Updated
Are you 100% confident that when you send a co-worker a calendar request, they’ll promptly see it and respond? And that you’d both be clear about that future meeting? If not, the use of outdated calendar software may be interrupting workflow and confusing your employees.
This could be another example of a previously simple task that resulted in zero confusion when your startup had fewer than five employees. As your company grows, however, you’ll want to make sure you’re using an effective calendaring app. If your people don’t know when they can reach those they work with, they may waste valuable time.
As new employees come on board, insist they all use the same system for appointments. You’ll also want to impress upon them the importance of keeping their employee calendar up-to-date. Model good time management with your own calendar and set the expectation that the rest of your team do the same.
Office confusion problems don’t typically solve themselves. They usually get worse the longer they’re allowed to go unchecked. Take steps today to alleviate confusion in your workplace. Start with these tips, but also ask your team what they think could be improved. By working together, you’ll minimize frustration and stop a lot of trouble before it starts.