With so many employees working in different ways today maintaining strong communication links are vital to the wellbeing and productivity of a team.
I was reading an old management textbook from 2007 with a very impressive graph, in the ‘communicating effectively’ chapter, showing research that physical distance has a great impact on levels of communication between team members.
The graph showed that if team members are seated 10 metres apart they have a 30% chance of communicating at least once a week. This probability dwindles to a mere 5% when people are seated more than 20 metres apart and falls to virtually nothing when seated at a distance of 60 metres or more apart.
This research flies in the face of workplace flexibility today with people now working across different hours, locations and time zones.
So how can we ensure teams stay connected, productive and engaged?
Traditional ways of communicating such as gathering the whole team together in a meeting room for the weekly team meeting may not work any more.
We need to get a little more creative in the way we communicate without the need for traditional ways of working where we all sit next to each other all day, every day, like we did nine years ago when this textbook was written.
Here are a few things that I’ve found work well:
- Include a regular ‘check-in’ with team members and colleagues so you stay connected with each other on how things are going and counter any feelings of isolation
- Schedule regular one on one catch-ups between the manager and team member – even if it’s over the phone
- Set a regular face to face time with the whole team, that’s not negotiable
- Maintain an ‘emergency’ keep in touch plan in case the unexpected comes up
- Advise team members, customers and other stakeholder to everyone’s availability
- Add a message in the email auto-signature and voicemail along the lines ‘We work flexibly here – you can find me in the office X and Y days otherwise call me on …’
- Try leveling the playing field so if you have meetings via teleconference, ask everyone to dial in no matter where they’re located
What other ways of communicating with team members working flexibly have worked for you?
Kathy is a highly experienced diversity and inclusion specialist with more than ten years practice, developing and implementing diversity and inclusion strategies. She spent nine years leading the strategy at the Commonwealth Bank, during which time they won global recognition for the advancement of women with the Catalyst Award. She has since worked with a range of organisations, helping them progress their diversity and inclusion goals.