Is Social Media Hindering Workplace Communication?

Ineffective communication at work can have detrimental impacts on productivity. Not only does it open opportunities for misunderstandings but it can lead to small problems spiralling out of control.

Having an effective internal communication strategy has never been more important, as hybrid structures become a mainstay in many workplaces across the UK, employees are spending their time together in different ways. 

Less than one in ten people have returned to their desks permanently since the work from home advice ended and as a result, businesses are battling to keep teams intact. And whilst technology was initially our saving grace, has it actually improved the way that we communicate at work in the long term?

Pre-pandemic, important business decisions and meetings would have taken place in-person, now you might see these conversations happening over Slack, Zoom, Teams or other collaborative communication tools. While these tools are useful, they can cause communication to break down, with the potential for miscommunication, stressful working environments and slowed growth. This is because many of these new tools take the same form as everyday social media platforms, which are used for personal chatter. Using them slows down productivity, makes information harder to locate and informalises workplace comms – employees don’t need another social media platform at work, they need a platform that streamlines comms to make information more accessible.

Using the wrong technology can cause communication barriers

Platforms that try to replicate the everyday experience of speaking with friends and family – embedding the use of hashtags, GIFs, emojis and the like into their interfaces – blur the lines between professional and unprofessional interactions. 

 What’s more, generational gaps can become exacerbated. Research shows that nearly a third of millennials (31%) say that they use instant messaging at work every day, compared with only 12% of baby boomers. 

As the pandemic forced teams to become increasingly disparate, at a time when there was more important information to be shared than ever before, platforms that replicate the format of a social experience mean information can get lost, ignored or worse, misunderstood. In a digital age, where constant notifications can be overwhelming, people in organisations need to know that the information they are receiving is both important and relevant. 

Despite this, many businesses have yet to adopt a streamlined communication structure that is suitable for every employee and, consequently businesses are dealing with lost sales, lost clients and lost team members. 

Using technology to reach every part of your business

Business leaders not only need to be certain that the information they are sharing with their teams is reaching them, but also that they are engaging with it. But with multiple platforms in place across a single business, this becomes near impossible. 

The solution? A centralised platform that can reach teams at their desk, as well as those in customer-facing roles, in a way that they are most likely to read and engage with it. For some, this might be via an app, or on their desktop, for others, it might be via SMS. Whatever the format, creating one solution for all team members needs to become the norm. This is also a timely way of distributing information amongst staff for business leaders so they don’t have to work across multiple communication channels.

Once a message is sent, it’s common for managers to simply assume that because they’ve sent a message to the right person at the right time, the target will engage with the information. But, there is simply no way to be sure. Having a single tool where managers can monitor which employees have engaged with the information allows them to then send targeted follow-ups, without adding to inbox clutter for those that don’t need it. 

Using social platforms for work comms is a GDPR nightmare

With cybercrime up 600% as a result of the pandemic, and 34% of businesses hit last year with a cyber incident that took over a week to get under control, businesses must take active steps to ensure they are using GDPR-compliant comms while at work. 

Using social platforms for business comms is a recipe for disaster and also has the potential to create a GDPR issue. 

However, over 79% of business professionals are still using WhatsApp to communicate – a platform that has been heavily criticised for its failure to protect its user’s data privacy in the past. Companies often assume these social platforms are suitable for business communication due to encryption, but that’s not the case. 

From engaging in conversations with colleagues to sharing work documents via these social apps, employers and staff communicating on these platforms can violate GDPR regulations due to a lack of control over the data. For example, while WhatsApp offers users encryption, all conversations and documents are stored in data centres. What would happen if one of these data centres were breached? Liability ultimately falls onto the business whose data has been leaked. 

Social channels should be differentiated from workplace comms. While these platforms may provide short-term benefits for employee recognition, knowledge sharing and daily decision making, the long-term impacts on compliance and overall productivity can be damaging.

Using a GDPR-compliant mobile-first solution that is able to reach every employee no matter their working pattern or style, is how businesses should tackle ineffective communication in the workplace.

If companies continue to use a myriad of platforms for workplace comms the potential for misuse grows as well as threats to security. Having a single platform that is capable of delivering information to employees in a way that suits them is the only way to ensure that employees remain engaged and information is readily available. 

About the author: Ross McCaw is the founder and CEO of OurPeople.

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