Communication gaps are draining away your productivity. This is what research told us about it

“We hit a snag due to communication gap between the teams.” is a common reason presented when any project hits a delay in delivery or production. The UX director at Quicken Loans got tired of this and decided to investigate. As a result, I have spent the summer of 2017 researching the communication systems and practices of Quicken Loans’ in-house technology division.

Our objective going in to the project was to find the reasons for disconnect between the teams, understand what an ideal scenario would look like and arm their internal communications team with information and tools to fix these issues.

These are the three important takeaways from the research,

  1. Freedom comes at a cost
Too many channels create confusion in day to day activities.

As agile becomes more popular, more and more teams are being given the freedom to choose methods and tools that work for them. As a side-effect, there is no tool parity across teams and within the company.

“It’s almost like we worked better when all we had was email and IM”

During our research, we have figured that multiple communication tools like HipChat, Slack, Hangouts, Skype and MS Communicator etc. just add to the confusion in large companies. One of our interviewees said, “It’s almost like we worked better when all we had was email and IM” which crystallizes the need for standardization of Instant Messaging and Project Management software.

Standardization of communication tools may feel like strong arming employees, but it will inevitably result in streamlining of communication and increase in productivity. We felt that specialized tools for Instant Messaging, Video Conferencing, Screen Sharing, File Storage and Documentation should be enough to do the job.

2. Email has been compromised

During the course of our research, we have surveyed 600 employees and found that although 80% of the sample size think email is the most important communication medium, only 30% think it is actually useful. Almost everyone we have spoken to complain that 99% of their emails are informational / awareness emails that they don’t care about.

Email Chaos (Ben M.

What’s worse is this “noise” takes attention away from what is actually important, which is why a lot of people miss important project changing communication or don’t receive that all important email because of a benign filter set to block that annoying email list about cats.

Solving email is a ginormous task for any company. But here are some ways our research wanted us to take.

  • Not everything belongs in an email: Maybe the notice-board in the kitchen is a better place for that reminder about the monthly toastmasters meetup.
  • Develop information systems, not email lists: Information has to be in an opt-in system that allows easy on-demand access. For example, an intranet site called http://shorty/foodtruck could house all the information about the current food truck promotions and menus instead of blasting an email everyday to people who will filter it out and not be able to access it when needed.
  • Email as an information archive: A lot of companies just can’t afford to reduce their email usage. They should look at an additional primary communication channel (like slack) and treat email as an archive instead of relying on it for primary communication. This can get messy too, but it is a start.
  • Think twice before reply-all: “Reply-all” is the bane of a lot of peoples existence. One of our survey respondent said,

“Reply-all is almost never required unless it is project related. I don’t need to know that you wished Jane on her birthday, only she does”.

3. Gaps in communication will begin eating into the real-estate and calendars

Finding a meeting room is often an arduous task within most companies. The rooms and schedules are always filled to the brim. This is likely caused by the lack of stream lined communication systems which lead to the need for repeat meetings to “clear things up” and “align ourselves”.

Time is one of the most precious resource in any modern corporate environment. During our user interviews and shadow sessions, we have recorded that almost 90% of the users feel their time is being wasted by repeat meetings about the same subject.

Okay, what is the solution then?

Well — that is tricky. For Quicken Loans, standardization and purge of duplicate systems is a start. We have provided them with employee personas, journey maps and communication maps to highlight the pain-points so immediate action can be taken.

There is no one size fits all solution to this problem. However, the only solution is RESEARCH. Every company is different, so you need setup a task-force to look into the specifics of your communication channels and practices.

Don’t have the time to do it yourself? Maybe you can hire a UX Researcher like me, to conduct a study designed around the needs of your company.

Drop me an e-mail at [email protected] if you have any questions.

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