Communication at Work

by Krishna on May 25, 2007

Something struck me recently about the difference between communication between stakeholders in a project and communication within an organization, namely that using different modes of communication in the latter situation is much more useful and productive.

In a particular project, it is useful to have a single point of communication to avoid confusion because otherwise information would be spread out and difficult to maintain with any consistency. However, within an organization, you can use different communication channels to achieve different goals. Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Wiki: Use a wiki to publish materials that will be referenced by employees. Company policies, procedures, standards and best practices could be put on the Wiki. Although multiple people could collaborate on editing content, you can restrict editing to authorized persons or make the content read-only. A wiki is a good place to create Intranet sites that can be easily updated by different people within the corporation. You can choose wiki platforms that meet your particular need for editing, collaboration and security.
  2. Blog: An internal company blog can be used to communicate information to the rest of the organization. Email can also be used to do that, but people lose emails in their Inbox and new employees don’t have access to the old emails. A blog is available online and older posts can be categorized or searched. You can also have dynamically generated blog feeds to inform you about the status of machines or tasks to be done. With blog feeds, the information comes to each person needing it instead of them having to come looking for it.
  3. Issue Tracking System: Use an issue tracking system to log a task for someone instead of emailing. You don’t have to remember all the tasks that you asked others to do. Also, other people can easily see all their pending tasks and when they are due. There is no guarantee that tasks will be done on time, but you have made the process simpler. A larger company may decide to implement a full-fledged enterprise solution, but even if you start small, you can reap the benefits. Sometimes it is better to start automating some parts so that you don’t have to wait for a big system to be ready.
  4. Document Templates: Using different document templates for various tasks allows you to structure what must be communicated. You are less likely to miss some vital piece of information, especially important when people are geographically separated. A simple way to start is to use Microsoft Word or Excel templates. If you have the time and money, make them online web-based forms with workflows. I would recommend reading “Business @ The Speed of Thought” by Bill Gates where he talks about how Microsoft converted their paper forms to online forms.
  5. Face-to-Face Meetings: I don’t mean this as a joke. Nowadays, people are so used to shooting off emails that they don’t talk to each other anymore. Meeting in person has “high communication bandwidth”, meaning that you communicate not just with words, but your body language and tone of voice. Also direct meetings are more likely to be collaborative than email threads, which can sometimes descend into outright flaming hell.

Email is good. Email is easy. It just doesn’t serve all purposes.

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