With e-mail, telephone, instant messaging and a host of other communication channels available in today’s workplaces, you may find it difficult to figure out which one works best for your department.
But remember that face-to-face communication is still by far most effective.
So, what can you do to encourage your employees to speak to one another face-to-face more often? Try breaking down the physical barriers in your office to allow everyone that important in-person contact every day. Try the following strategies to eliminate the physical barriers that may exist in your workplace:
- Communicate in cubes. If many employees work in separate offices, try restructuring your workstations into cubicles. Although you may hear some moans and groans from your employees about the cubicles, having everyone working in “open air” together will encourage them to talk to one another in person instead of picking up the phone or sending an e-mail. And explain to your employees that better face-to-face communication is your goal so they understand why you made the change.
- Have an open-door policy. As a supervisor, you may have an “open-door policy” with your employees, but make sure they have one too. If you want to stick with separate offices instead of cubicles, ask your employees to keep their doors open to promote better communication in your workplace.
Democratic workplaces are part of the most successful companies today because they enable an innovative and collaborative environment.
You can help your workplace become more democratic with these tips from Traci Fenton, founder and CEO of WorldBlu, Inc.
- “Get naked,” Fenton says. Before you start unzipping your pants, what Fenton really means is that you should be as open and honest with your coworkers as possible. Get rid of your own hidden agenda and share your secrets. You’ll strengthen your relationships with your coworkers and they’ll feel like they can trust you.
- “Have a conversation,” suggests Fenton. During times of crisis, or when your department is down and out, silence can be one of your biggest enemies. Engage in conversation with your coworkers and encourage them to speak up about the issues at hand. You may all be able to come up with solutions.
- “Loathe rankism,” warns Fenton. Cliques are a dysfunctional characteristic of many companies. Lose your mentality of only speaking or fraternizing with certain people. Treat all of your coworkers the same: with respect and dignity.
- “Understand the meaning of life,” says Fenton. Know what vision you have for your life and assess whether or not your job is helping you achieve that vision. If it isn’t, it’s time to change jobs. Staying in a place that makes you unhappy has a negative affect on your coworkers.
- “Point fingers, but in a good way,” Fenton says. This isn’t about blame, it’s about you being responsible for your own work and making your coworkers responsible for their work. When you hold yourself and others accountable for actions, you lose the negativity of the blame game and get a friendlier, more efficient work environment.
Juggling friendships in the workplace is particularly hard if you’re in an authoritative position. You don’t want to be the unapproachable, mean supervisor — but you can’t let your friendships interfere with your ability to be a good manager either.
You’ll find that the key to most management situations is balance, and walking the middle ground between supervisor and friend is no exception. This isn’t to say that friendships at work are all bad. You can gain good connections and land better jobs based on the friends you make. But it’s best to keep work friendships casual instead of close, recommends Cheri Swales in her article titled Being Friendly Vs. Being Friends.
Here’s some advice we’ve gleaned from Swales to help you keep work friendships advantageous — not poisonous:
- Set ground rules. If you’ve established friendships before you take on a management role, make sure you talk to your work friends honestly about what you expect from them — and what they can expect from you. You won’t play favorites, and you’ll want your friends to keep work and personal matters separate, says Swales.
- Keep the playing field even. To keep up your end of the bargain, you must monitor yourself. Make sure that you’re treating every employee fairly and equally. This means that you’re giving big opportunities to the best-qualified employees, despite whether you’re friends. Tip: If you’re concerned that you can’t put aside your bias to make a fair decision, ask an outside party to help, recommends Swales.
- Be cautious with your trust. Don’t spill your deepest secrets to a work friend you’ve known for only a short time. Instead, build a good foundation of trust, suggests Swales. Another way to get a sense of who you can confide in is to watch how employees interact with one another and who other employees seem to trust.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Of course you want to forge relationships in the place where you spend most of your time. But venture outside your company for closer friendships, recommends Swales. That way you don’t have to worry too much about overstepping bounds.
If your workers think that you’d never do what they do, you could be sending a bad message. Workers feel discouraged when they think that you either don’t know how to do their jobs, or you think you’re exempt from doing that type of work because you’ve already “done that.”
After all, you had to pay your dues and do the dirty work for many years to be promoted to your “posh” position.
But getting involved with the day-to-day on-the-job tasks will provide you with multiple benefits:
- It will show your workers that you’re not afraid of a little hard work. They’ll also respect you more when they see that you don’t think doing their work is beneath you.
- It will keep you involved in the workflow. If your workers are complaining that a process needs fixing, the best way to evaluate the problem is to dive in and experience it first hand.
- It will give you empathy. You’ll understand your workers’ concerns much more when you face the same frustrations they do.