By John Muscarella
Over the past week, how many hours did you spend on Zoom or other videoconferencing tools? How many emails did you receive? How many times did the chirp of Slack pull you out of your deep-focus work time?
Whether you are working from home or have returned to the office full time, digital communication through tools such as Slack, email, and Zoom is a defining feature of the modern workplace. These tools simplify workplace collaboration, boosting productivity levels for all teams, whether fully remote, hybrid, or in-person.
Over the past two years, we rapidly shifted to remote and hybrid work, and as a result, individuals have been inundated daily by an abundance of digital communication technologies. By all accounts, even as we get back on the road and to meeting in person, this trend isn’t changing.
According to a McKinsey analysis, the average worker spends 28 percent, or 2.6 hours of their day, responding to emails. In a survey of 182 senior managers across diverse industries, 65 percent reported meetings kept them from completing their work, with an average of 31 hours per month wasted on unproductive meetings. Add Slack to the mix, where the average employee clocks 90 minutes of active use per workday, and you realize these digital tools have the ability to steal your time and even hinder the productivity of your teams.
The good news? There are a few easy steps laid out below that your organization can take to simplify and maximize the effectiveness of digital communication.
Establish Rules and Guidelines
The pandemic altered the rules of communication. In the hybrid and remote workplace, the social cues that once told us whether a teammate was deep in focus or free to collaborate are no longer there. Teams must establish new communication norms around these digital platforms to be effective. Start with an open conversation with all team members asking each person:
- How do you use our digital collaboration tools?
- Do you understand when to use one over another?
- How would you like to use these tools?
- Include how everyone uses these tools with customers and partners.
It is just as important to create rules and standards around how you communicate externally. You’ll quickly discover how these tools are used—and misused—and can take steps to establish new rules and guidelines.
When establishing these rules, keep the dialogue open and understanding. As a group, write down which tools you will use, when you use them, the expected response time and other norms. For example, your team will use Slack for short, simple, and urgent messages. Norms may include setting your availability, limiting group messages to six people and avoiding complicated questions. You may also consider your policy for keeping video on versus off when you’re talking with internal teams and externally.
In the beginning, you may find team members reverting to old ways. Encourage these new practices by giving shout-outs to those who practice the rules and following up with those who are not following the rules. These team members may need further training on a specific tool.
These new norms will help eliminate misuse and lead to more effective and efficient digital communication.
Adjust Your Notification Preferences
Always on. Always accessible. With the constant barrage of notifications, how can we find the time to do deep, creative, and uninterrupted work? Here are a few steps you can take today to win back your time.
First, take advantage of notification preferences on the various platforms. You can often set a schedule that only allows notifications during the days and hours you choose. This is particularly helpful for those trying to establish a boundary between work and home life and organizations that embrace flexible work hours.
Second, block out focus time on your calendar and say no to any meetings that someone may try to schedule during that time. Time blocking is a great strategy to help you win back control of your day. When time blocking, you should block off at least two hours of uninterrupted time and assign yourself a goal to accomplish during the time.
Finally, consider enabling the “do not disturb” mode on your iPhone or Android devices. This mode blocks all notifications, including calls and text messages. You can customize this setting so that contacts saved as favorites can still call and text you and to allow calls from those who try you more than once in a short period.
These simple steps will give you control over your day and free you from the distractions that result from your being “always on.”
We’ve all experienced and been the culprit of content duplication across channels. You’re communicating with your team about a project via email, and then before you know it, the conversation is also happening on Slack. You spend the next hour deciphering both conversation threads, only to be overwhelmed by content and request a Zoom video call for clarification. Duplication is an all-too-common phenomenon in the workplace that wastes our time and resources. This is particularly challenging when trying to work with clients and partners where it’s critical you don’t miss important information that will enable you to deliver exceptional service.
How do we eliminate duplication? Erica Dhawan, a leading expert on 21st-century teamwork and collaboration and the author of the book Digital Body Language, developed a practice that included implementing the hashtag #killduplication. Anytime duplication occurs, individuals are encouraged to reply #killduplication to raise awareness in a gentle and fun way. The organizations that have adopted this practice have significantly reduced duplication, saving time, money, and resources. So get started and #killduplication today!
In today’s digital age, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant stream of communication. By establishing new norms, adjusting our notification preferences, and working to #killduplication, we can take back control of our lives, improve our productivity levels, and find the balance between home and work life.
About the writer: John Muscarella is a Senior Director at Cox Business, John is responsible for the overall readiness strategy for the indirect business sales channels. His team has the primary responsibility to develop, implement and sell solutions utilizing the Cox Communications network throughout the country. John has more than 25 years of experience in business management, which includes sales and leadership positions with companies such as Polycom, Sprint and EDS.