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Too Many Communication Options Causing Headaches at Work

April 30, 2018, 12:15 PM

Workplaces with too many communication platforms may find that the systems meant to connect workers could actually end up driving them away.

Workers now have the option to communicate through video conferencing, email, text message, instant message, direct message, and even on the phone once in a while. Too many applications, however, are causing employees to lose focus, increasing stress, and ultimately leading workers to seek more tranquil work environments.

Over half of workers say they’re overwhelmed and feel pressure to use multiple platforms, according to a survey from communications software provider Dynamic Signal published March 28. Even scarier for employers: one in three (33 percent) are ready to quit because they’re stressed out by poor communication in the workplace.

Beyond communications, a general sense of chaos may be causing employees to quit, research from project management software provider Wrike shows. It found that 18 percent of millennials, 12 percent of Generation X workers, and 8 percent of baby boomers had quit a job out of frustration due to lack of operational efficiency at work.

Companies aren’t looking to eliminate all communications technologies to stop the chaos but instead are searching for a different platform or more streamlined system. Executives increasingly are looking to “proactively manage” workplace technology, Natalie McCullough, general manager of MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics at Microsoft, told Bloomberg Law April 26. “Companies are really worried about this now.”

Focus on Use?

Microsoft employees are “the first to feel the pain if there are growing pains” because new platforms and technologies are first tested internally, McCullough said. For example, the company’s new Teams platform was a result of communication tech overload, based on both employee and client feedback, she said. The Teams app creates a centralized hub where workers can access all chats, documents, and messages in one place, minimizing the risk that something will be missed.

Microsoft also has found that preferences on technology differ by age, with baby boomers and Gen X employees most excited about new technology, and surprisingly Generation Z employees less enthused and more stressed to learn new platforms, McCullough said. Older workers appreciate technology that makes their work easier—despite the disruptions—while digital natives want technology to work seamlessly all the time, McCullough said.

Digital communications provider TetraVX also has experienced disruptive communications, Jimmy Carroll, partner and director of the company, told Bloomberg Law April 26.

Solutions to calm the disruptions are more focused on the way the technology is used as opposed to the technology itself. If co-workers at TetraVX exchange two or more emails, they’re required to pick up the phone and actually speak to each other, Carroll said. “This stops the confusion between two workers, because the back and forth can be extremely inefficient.”

Ensuring that employees follow the rules is another challenge altogether, however. “We’ve set certain policies up internally, but it’s hard to police something like that,” Carroll said.

Solutions in Data, Education

Software companies also are working to solve the communication problems of other companies. Microsoft client Macy’s found that employees were spending a lot of time working after hours, sending emails when they were in meetings, and generally having “a lot of fragmentation in their day,” meaning they were only able to focus on one project or work assignment for short periods of time, McCullough said.

So Macy’s launched its Time is Money program to train employees to recognize how to use their time and energy more productively. As a result of the training and a change in the tools Macy’s employees use to communicate, workers gained four more hours per week of uninterrupted “focus time.” Being able to stop the disruptions is “really important for the deep cognitive work that most knowledge workers need to do,” McCullough said.

TetraVX approaches the rollout of new communications technology for clients from a marketing perspective, educating employees on how the system will work, how it will help them, and what kind of training it will require before implementation, Carroll said. TetraVX then analyzes how the platforms or systems are used in the first few months to determine whether the solution is being successfully adopted, or whether there are more training needs.

“Organizations should take the time on the front end to understand what they are trying to accomplish,” Carroll said. “If an organization is willing to transform its workplace, it has to understand what the technology needs to do.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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