How to End the “Telephone Game” While Your Workforce Is Remote
Some 80 percent of the world’s workers are on the front line, and due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the remaining 20 percent increasingly are moving toward remote work. Both groups fall victim to the “Telephone Game,” where employees often communicate through a chain of people, rather than directly with each other.
It’s important for employees to feel connected to their company’s mission and understand how their job contributes to it. But making this connection can be a challenge, especially when colleagues aren’t working in an office setting together. For example, front-line employees—people whose primary role is to work directly with customers providing services or employees directly involved in the manufacturing and distribution of products—may feel they don’t have the latest company information because they don’t regularly get to interact with management or executives. Because they often don’t have a corporate e-mail and normally aren’t physically present at the office, they can fall to the bottom of the “feedback chain” within organizations —which can easily lead to information gaps.
In a survey, we found that 86 percent of front-line employees feel connected to their direct co-workers, but only 14 percent feel connected to their organization’s headquarters. This finding highlights how some methods of communication and collaboration are failing employees, and with most people stuck at home now, this issue is seen among desk workers, as well. Employers need to look for ways to ensure their front-line and remote workers feel heard and valued, even when they aren’t in the same physical space.
Businesses can achieve this by implementing technology and tools that not only facilitate communication and collaboration, but also transform culture and create community within the organization. Communication tools also can facilitate more effective training and streamline mundane processes and tasks. Tools that foster open communication and remove friction in workflows can increase employee morale and promote a more engaged workforce. Examples of how communication and collaboration tools can foster engagement are:
- One-to-one chat messages or group discussions, which allow disparate employees to connect seamlessly, regardless of location.
- Smaller work groups that encompass drop-in video environments, which can simulate social interactions traditionally held around the office water cooler.
- Executives who communicate to their employees via live video during company-wide meetings or Q&A sessions and get insights on employee sentiment through comments on posts, the types of questions asked, and reactions.
- >Regardless of location or level within a company, workers now have a chance to share their ideas and give genuine feedback.
Our survey found that a quarter of employees have had an idea about how to improve something but never told anyone. Unfortunately, 38 percent of front-line workers said they have shared an idea with management—only for it to be ignored. By opening up the lines of communication, organizations can enhance employees’ sense of community and increase engagement.
With this, there is an opportunity to create and foster a culture of open communication and trust. While it can be easier for workers in traditional office settings to catch up around the water cooler, employers need to offer the same opportunities for front-line workers and take into account the challenges of our currently dispersed workforce in order to meaningfully connect to the organization. A sense of community at work is important in feeling connected and valued. Organizing ongoing virtual get-togethers, teambuilding exercises, community groups, and training initiatives can help build community within a company that can’t be in an office together.
Lastly, in order for businesses to maximize their bottom line, company executives have to arm managers with the skills needed to manage front-line and remote forces. While 90 percent of managers confidently reported that their front-line workers felt empowered to share ideas with them, our report found that only 45 percent of front-line workers actually do so. According to the Harvard Business Review, 77 percent of executives say front-line managers are important in helping their organization reach their business goals, but only one-third said their front-line managers are competent in business-based decision-making. This disconnect can lead to organizational issues. To get ahead of these issues, employers can:
- Prioritize training to increase trust and competency and improve direct communication across all levels.
- Utilize emerging technology, such as augmented reality/virtual reality platform Oculus for Business, to give employees the chance to implement training practices that are more engaging and accurate, even if physically apart.
- Encourage continued education for all levels, allowing employees to constantly grow their skills and better their management abilities.
Ultimately, the time has come for companies to holistically look at their collaboration practices and prioritize making employees of all backgrounds recognized and heard. This not only helps with employee happiness, but leads to less turnover, increases business efficiency, and creates an environment where innovation is supported. Collaborative cultures make a positive impact on the individual level, and getting rid of the Telephone Game at work lends itself to smoother processes overall.
Christine Trodella has been at Facebook for the last eight years. During her time there, she has led the Consumer Packaged Goods and Retail teams in Facebook’s Global Marketing Solutions organization and the team in North and Latin America for Facebook’s Audience Network. She currently leads The Americas for Workplace, Facebook’s collaboration and communication platform. Her team helps businesses and large enterprises build a connected culture by leveraging Facebook’s Workplace platform. Prior to Facebook, Trodella held sales leadership roles at WebMD, Yahoo! and AOL. She spent the early part of her career doing quantitative market research for Information Resources, Inc., and economic forecasting for the Chief Economist of Union Bank of California. She holds an M.A. in Economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara.