Home Online Work The importance of improving online communication at work

The importance of improving online communication at work

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Digital communication at work - why tone matters

Many of us aren’t getting our work communications quite right (Picture: Getty)

During the first lockdown last March, a new era of work was defined. 

Spare rooms became offices and dining tables turned into desks as a huge proportion of the workforce went remote. 

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Despite calls for people to return to offices in town centres across the country, a report from the Office for National Statistics suggests remote working is here to stay, with 85% of employees wanting to adopt a hybrid of home and office work. 

One major way remote working has impacted the workforce is by changing the way we communicate with one another.  

The use of collaborative working tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams jumped, with instant messaging becoming the main mode of workplace communication for many.  

Now, what would have been a casual chat at the coffee machine is condensed into gifs posted in a specific ‘water-cooler’ group chat, and feedback is delivered in quickly-fired-off messages that can easily be misread as blunt and brutal, rather than a symptom of busyness.

One major issue that has arisen is a struggle to adjust to this new form of communication.

It is not just what we say – or type – but how we say it. 

The context we’d usually get from body language, facial expressions and tone of voice is missing when we communicate via instant messages.  

This can leave certain communications open to interpretation, causing anxiety and failing to allow colleagues to bond naturally. 

Woman working from home on sofa with laptop

An open dialogue with an informal tone is paramount (Picture: Getty)

‘Communication is a critical part of employee engagement – it promotes better performance, employee retention and wellbeing,’ says Kiran Kachela, founder and managing Director of business improvement consultancy Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd. 

‘Regular and informal communication between individuals helps to maintain intimacy and familiarity between people, and in turn, improve cohesion.’ 

For Kachela, having an open dialogue with an informal tone is paramount. 

‘This is more likely to engage employees and make them feel valued because they can bring their personalities to the table,’ she says.  

‘Adding emojis to messages to illustrate the lift of an eyebrow or a shake of the head brings context and emotion to a message that otherwise could be emotionless and open to interpretation, and allowing people to use informal language and type how they would normally speak helps people be more authentic and avoid alienation.’ 

Celeste*, a journalist based in London, had two very different remote working experiences while freelancing for different companies. 

‘When I started freelancing in the pandemic, it was naturally harder to bond with colleagues without having met them in real life,’ she says.  

At one company, Celeste says chat was much more informal and colleagues would chat about life as well as work.  

At the other, the only chat involved working through issues and offering criticism. 

‘Over time I found myself able to make friends with the first group and now socialise with them in person as rules lifted,’ Celeste adds. ‘This hasn’t been true of the others, who I don’t feel I know well at all despite working for both teams for the same period of time.  

‘While working with the less chatty team in lockdown, I definitely felt much lonelier and like I was missing out on bonding opportunities friends in other jobs had.’ 

Ultimately, working in a very formal and blunt environment led Celeste to feel less satisfied at work. 

This can especially impact workers from the younger generations. 

Digital culture expert and founder of The Digital Fairy, Eve Lee, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Unlike previous generations, gen Z and younger millenials have an innate relationship with digital forums. 

‘Those who have more experience switching between Discord servers, Slack channels and other informal social spaces have multiple benchmarks into the nuances of digital communication. 

‘A corporate slack environment, then, is a huge contrast, and there is an acute awareness of tonality and how it is used to make them feel. 

‘If digital workplaces are fostering a hostile or suspicious environment, it will either become a source of anxiety for younger generations, or they will tune out.’ 

This has definitely been the case for Ruby* a content writer based in Yorkshire, who has never met her colleagues in person.  

She admits that, without in-person communication about her work as well as the ability to bond with her colleagues, her work can sometimes feel ‘quite meaningless’.

‘What I find the most alienating is not being made aware of the concrete results of my work, likely because these conversations would be quite tedious over a service like Slack,’ she says. 

‘I think if I were able to go into the office, or we had more Zoom calls, I would feel like I was more integrated into the business.

‘I occasionally get off-hand messages from my editor complimenting my work, but in terms of metrics and how it helps the business, I’m pretty much in the dark.’

This can happen when communication isn’t a priority for a business. 

‘All successful businesses are built on strong relationships and an engaged workforce; and communication is the linchpin to achieving this,’ says Kachela. 

‘Effective, multi-dimensional communication helps to improve productivity and maintain strong working relationships by enabling the development of mutual trust, empathy towards others’ feelings and an ability to support one another’s goals.  

‘Employers who invest time and energy into improving lines of communication will rapidly build trust, morale and improve performance among employees.’ 

Lee agrees: ‘Now that digital workplaces have replaced the office, the mood is that how you type, what you type, when you type and where you type fundamentally sets culture.  

‘Slack communications aren’t one size fits all, and there’s a lot to be said for companies that are prepared to discuss communication styles at all levels. 

‘To form a more productive working environment, we should all workshop and voice our preferred communication method, what motivates, demotivates us and what simply affects our mental health. 

‘Reassuring and respectful communication will be worth more to the company than any work perks in the world.’ 



How to adapt your Slack messaging style to make everyone feel comfortable

Mix it up

Don’t just use Slack for communicating strictly work-activity related messages.

You can mix it up a little with some more informal but relevant content; it could be a motivational quote, a business book recommendation, sharing something interesting about your day or saying thanks to a team for going the extra mile.

Create forums

You may find people at work with similar interests or skills; this is a perfect opportunity to form relationships and network.

Say you’ve just been on a training course with a group of people, you could set up a forum and begin sharing real-life examples of applying your new found skills and challenges being faced.

This is something we recommend to our clients after delivering training and we have found that this works really well and helps to form new relationships. 

Add emotion

Using emojis and GIFs to bring context and add emotion to your messages is a great way to break down barriers and create a safe environment for people to share their personalities, thoughts and feelings.

Respect work-life balance

While tools such as Slack are a great way to get quick access to people and communicate instantly, you should always respect work-life balance.

No one wants to be pinged out of hours.

Be inclusive

Encourage communication with all levels of the organisation, from senior leadership to more junior staff.

It’s time to breakdown hierarchies and allow for a more inclusive environment.

– Kiran Kachela, founder and managing Director of business improvement consultancy Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd. 

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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