Solving the Overcrowded Channel Problem

During the last couple of months we’ve interviewed hundreds of different managers about their communication habits. It has been one of the most exciting and rewarding journeys for me so far. These are passionate people leaders are navigating in a daily storm of communication and deadlines. What strikes me as an essential trait when speaking with them is the empathy they continuously show.

Written by

Henrik Jesman Sunde

June 15, 2021

The willingness to listen and curiosity about how to improve the daily workflow always comes up in the interviews. One discovery I made early on in the process was that at one point, the conversation always started to shift from cultural workflow habits in the company to the elephant in the room: channels. Without them you cannot communicate - use them wrong, and you can make a real mess.

Most of the leaders I interview use email as their primary channel of communication to distribute important info to their partners, coworkers, and network. About 80% also find themselves in a split between email, intranet, and social channels like Slack, WhatsApp, and Teams. Multiple channels result in double communication (i.e. sending an email about posting a message on the intranet) and a false perception by the target group of over-communication. One of the people leaders I spoke to summed this up clearly:

Employees are saying they do not know what is going on in the company, even though there is over-communication.

Why does this happen? I chose to dig a bit deeper into the problem.

Analyzing channel use across various industries, we are observing three major trends:

  • Platform-thinking is not working efficiently anymore. The barriers are too high to log into a companywide platform to consume communications.  Each individual has a day-to-day channel where they prefer to stay.
  • Companies that use an email-only approach tends to have a severely dysfunctional channels. As the email client cannot be appropriately indexed and essential content is drowning in the pile of incoming email. Going back to read later is almost non-existent, so you have to be exact with your send timing.
  • For organizations that use multiple channels there are both pros and cons. The advantages are that teams on the same channel can work in a calm environment with relatively efficient channel communication. The disadvantages are that this easily creates silos across the org and could be a potential risk for unified company culture.

The people leaders I speak with, which shares this use case in their company, are consistently using vast amounts of time to post content and remind coworkers manually. They are working across multiple channels without consistent metrics and analytics to guide them. We see that companies using 2-3 channels retrieve the most efficiency out of the channels themselves. At a channel count over three, the benefits start to deteriorate, mostly because of the substantial maintenance issues manually serving them with the same info.

Here are our main tips on what to do if your channels are starting to get overcrowded and inefficient:

  • Introduce simple channel policies to reduce the density of the communication.
    Examples could be to not allow extended chats or conversations in email threads with more than three recipients or general channels on social. Also, make specific guidelines to clarify which types of communication should be in muted groups, or that could be used as a reference to others - not with notifications going out. Channel policies should be easy to follow and not extensive.

  • Avoid double communication
    Double communication is a symptom of dysfunctional channels or analytics. If you find yourself in a situation where you are forced to send a message in a different channel, «just to be sure,» that is your sign that there are improvements to be made. See it as a call to action for looking for tools that can help you either communicate more efficiently or measure which channels that are letting you down.

  • Measure what works and what doesn’t
    Surprisingly many of the people leaders I interview say they only use limited surveys to measure how their content is performing. Surveys mean lagging data which includes a manual process of filling out a survey that can be biased. To accurately diagnose the situation at hand and how to make the best decisions going forward, we need to move from a gut feeling scenario to data-driven decision making. Dare to dive into the data and look at what’s working and what’s not.

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