How do you share updates with your team?
Why too many threads and pings are making team communication harder
When your company has an entirely remote workforce, the key to effective online team collaboration is good communication.
You may not be able to have a weekly stand-up meeting where you all gather in the same physical location, but remote management tools have made it easy to update your team and make sure everyone’s on the same page.
But are they actually effective?
There’s no denying that there are more digital communication channels available to us than ever more. But are they actually improving our productivity? After all, nearly half the knowledge workers we interviewed said there is “too much noise” in team communications.
So, in a world of synchronous and asynchronous communication channels—emails, Slack threads, Zoom calls, WhatsApp groups, and more—let’s unpick the tangled web of options for today’s remote team, and look at how the most essential messages can reach everyone who needs to know about them.
Why are your team updates getting lost?
With the myriad communication options available through workspace apps, we’re no longer dependent on email (only) to share team updates. Email might still get used for the most “official” communications, but for a quick project progress report you can turn to a team messaging app like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
Using these apps, you can set up message threads for different teams and topics. For example, your design team can share a project status update about the latest Facebook Ads campaign on one channel, while another channel is dedicated to onboarding new engineers.
The problem is that these threads tend to have a rapid turnover and essential information can easily get lost. Moreover, the ease of communication they provide can lead to a bombardment of messages that will challenge the attention spans of your team members. Imagine that you went on a lunch break and returned to find 200 messages across 3 channels. How do you know which one to read? Where should you start from?
In fact, it’s not necessarily that team members aren’t reading the messages, but because there are so many of them, it’s difficult for people to retain that information—or to tell the difference between an important update and a less urgent communication. And for people who join the team later, it’s impossible to go back in time and see the history of the most important updates.
The plain truth is that the increasing choice of messaging apps is not necessarily an advantage for your business. Usually, there’s one for each format; written, audio, and video. And the same goes for asynchronous channels. This increases complexity, because there are different teams working at different paces, with different synchronicity preferences. Without careful thought, your stack of communication tools can become a burden and a drain on your resources.
What happens when there are too many communication channels?
When your team updates get spread over a multitude of messaging channels, and numerous individual messages, this can be detrimental to your company’s communication. You can find yourself facing:
Communication blind-spots: When an update is only shared in a certain channel, it may not reach the whole team. For example, if your developers are focused on GitHub or JIRA but you only post your updates in Slack, some team members might not get the update in time or overlook it completely.
Chaotic message threads: If your company has a culture of exchanging a high volume of messages, important updates get lost in the various thread streams. One study found that employees at large companies are sending over 200 Slack messages per week on average—but even 1,000 in a single day is “not an exception”.
Dysfunctional cross-functional teams: As a cross-functional team, you’re reliant on information sharing between different departments. If key updates get siloed in separate messaging threads it’s a challenge for team leads to gather reports and funnel them back up the chain.
Coordination within a global workforce: Further communication complexity arises when you’re working with a global team, transcending different languages and time zones. You can’t expect a team member on the west coast of the US to see and respond to an update at the same time as someone in Singapore or Hong Kong.
All of these communication problems come at a cost—not just to the patience or morale of your team (though these are factors that shouldn’t be overlooked), but to the operational efficiency and sustainability of your business.
The costs of poorly managed communication include:
Lack of transparency: Missed updates can lead to certain team members or departments being left out of the loop, resulting in both loss of trust and loss of focus—if some departments aren’t working to the stated goals of the company.
Communication overload: Multiple studies have shown that remote workers are more productive than on-site workers, but this productivity is severely compromised if employees are constantly barraged with messages that they’re expected to respond to immediately.
Wasted time: Poorly-timed or misdirected communications mean that information often has to be sent out on multiple occasions before everyone gets the message. This is an inefficient use of time that also results in frustration for team members who must respond to multiple information requests.
Missed learning opportunities: If project reports aren’t getting through, chances are that team members won’t be able to learn from what went right or wrong during the previous cycle. Mistakes will be repeated, most likely at a financial cost to the business.
Transforming communication for greater engagement
When used wisely, work management apps can help ensure that your whole team stays informed and engaged, rather than creating confusion and frustration. Here are a few things you can do to make sure that your updates reach everyone they need to:
Put messages into context, connected to the right people, teams, and projects. This makes sure it reaches the stakeholders who need to hear it. Just make sure you’re reaching them on the right channels—Slack and emails at least.
Make every keyword in each message searchable. The more communication tools you have, the harder this might become.
Label each message to ensure it gets the right level of attention. For example, as an announcement, a blocker, or a milestone. Getting the right visibility is key for information sharing.
Cascade information sharing automatically on the right channels and in the right context. Imagine if you could write a project update and share it automatically on the related Slack channel and in the inbox of every project member—without all the copy and pasting, and definitely without arranging a 1 hour long Zoom call.
A virtual workspace such as Qatalog can integrate your messaging apps so updates are shared in the relevant places, and help you achieve all the points above.
You might use other tactics, such as reducing the volume of messages through processes and rules, scheduling synchronous communication (e.g. video calls) only with an agenda, or using data to determine what is being read and which info your teams are searching for. There might be a better way.
Start that conversation
So when you share updates with your team, make it count. Cut down on the noise in your communications and deliver messages exactly when and where they will support—not challenge—your team’s productivity.
Julian is the Head of Design at Qatalog. He has a track record in designing digital brand experiences, award-winning campaigns and product design with global brands and startups. When he’s not designing, Julian is most likely busy with one of his DIY projects or traveling around the world.