In previous jobs, I have worked a fair bit to improve internal communications in work circles – informally, rather than as part of my specification.
Through a combination of hard-won experience and probably being a bit sensitive to what’s going on around me and thinking really hard about it, I’ve gained some useful insight for people wanting to try to help improve communications in their teams.
A lot of this advice also applies to building online communities with forums or social media groups too.
The key thing to understand is that this problem is not a primarily a technological one, but a cultural/psychological one. Many people start with “we need a new app to help us communicate better!”. But technology abounds, and the real problem is how do you get people to use any tools that you put in place, and keep people USING those tools (whatever they are) without constantly interrupting or annoying them, overloading them, and putting them off using it.
Some things to think about that come about from looking at the problem in this way:
Will people use a new/different tool? Or is it easier to just go where they are already at, like in a Facebook group?
Chat tools like Slack are great but they get noisy and demanding, encouraging immediacy. They also focus on the immediate, to the extent that Slack’s entire business model is based around roping you in with free, real-time communication and then getting you to pay for access to historical conversations.
Trello is lovely, I like Trello. It works very much like a whiteboard full of post-its that everyone can see. But your team would probably have to be quite active in checking in on it. So if you are using Trello for comms and collaboration you should maybe have some other channel for prodding people to look at it.
If you like Facebook but don’t want to actually use Facebook then look into Facebook Workplace: https://www.facebook.com/workplace – it’s like your organisations own, private Facebook! This is great because most people know how to use Facebook, but you probably don’t want the whack-a-mole of real-Facebook notifications during the working day. So this keeps it work-only!
Don’t neglect more traditional channels! Email lists/groups, posters on walls, and instant messages are all effective at reaching out to people. But use these to direct people back to the central tool you use to communicate and collaborate. A weekly email summing up key points that people need to know with links back to where they can read more works great.
Provide value. People won’t use a tool if it’s not up to date, or doesn’t aid them in their work. Make it useful. Keep information fresh and accurate. And solicit and pay attention to feedback from people to find out how to make the tool more useful for them
In all cases, this is a people problem and you will need people to help you solve it. So once you have chosen a technology, ensure that you have some kind of community leadership. Maybe recruit others to the cause of better communication and have them as your ambassadors/champions, so that if someone says “Where do I tell everyone about this thing?” or “Where do I find out about the thing?” they can get directed to the new communications tool.
Talk about the tool in meetings, embed it within the culture of your organisation. Make it THE place to go to communicate. This is key! Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd and people won’t use the tool if no one else is using it
It’s also, helpful to understand the barriers to communication and communcation styles. Extroverts and sensitive types may hate using the phone or speaking up in a more public forum, so find ways to gently encourage their communication or offer to communicate on their behalf.
Understanding character types and why people behave like they do can be super helpful. Always be skeptical of psychology tests and putting people in boxes, but things like the excellent and mostly free 16 Personalities can be helpful in understanding how each other’s brains work and how that affects communication.
Getting a busy, diverse, distributed, flexi-time mixture of people to communicate is hard work – but if you can get it to work the benefits are huge! I hope you crack it!