Poor communication could be shrinking your paycheck and cost a single company over $60 million annually.
Small companies aren’t immune to poor communication woes, either. Communication blunders cost $420,000 per year in companies with 100 employees or fewer.
Big or small, poor communication costs companies money. This loss of revenue can certainly impact employee salaries and bonuses. And to add to the damage, the upswing in remote working has only made communication between employees and upper management harder.
Instead of waiting for things to get better, employees may want to try talking to their coworkers and bosses higher up in the company.
Before we introduce the concept of upward communication, it’s important to take a look at traditional workplace communication and where it falls short.
What is traditional workplace communication?
Traditional workplace communication goes from the top down. Top-down communication is a structure where information flows from senior leadership down through the business. Top-down communication can be effective when it’s executed properly. When things are done right, messages move smoothly through the different levels of the hierarchy and get to the front-line workers without being changed or watered down.
However, at its worst, it can do the exact opposite. When messages don’t flow smoothly from the top down, there can be hesitation to act, or paralysis among front-line teams because they’re unsure how to proceed, or worried they will make a mistake. As a general rule, the more hierarchy you have in your communication structures, the more inefficiencies will start to emerge.
The best organizations have a mix of both top-down and bottom-up communication styles that work well together and give everyone in the organization a voice.
What is upward communication?
Upward communication encourages lower-level employees to communicate directly with upper management.
Upward communication encourages employees to talk to upper management with feedback, concerns, or ideas about day-to-day operations. Downward communication is when upper management sends information down the company ladder to employees.
Your company may already have a few practices that promote upward communication. The standard suggestion box may be the most familiar upward communication method. While performance reports of an employee from a manager are an example of downward communication, managers’ being open to performance reports about themselves from their employees is an example of upward communication.
Satisfaction surveys are a way for employees to talk to upper management about their personal experiences at work. At the same time, company meetings (at least the most productive ones) tend to involve a healthy balance of downward and upward communication.
Why is upward communication important?
Proper communication within a business brings about several benefits. Downward communication can make employees feel like they aren’t being heard or valued, but upward communication can boost productivity, engagement, retention, and trust.
- Employees who feel well-connected to colleagues in a remote work environment are 71% more productive.
- Organizations with effective communication plans are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.
- Consistent and transparent communication improves employee engagement.
- Engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave their organization.
Employees who feel heard complete more work. Their work is better than the competition, and they’re more engaged and less likely to leave.
Improved communication may seem to only benefit employers. But when you can get better work done in less time with people you enjoy spending time with, you’re more likely to be satisfied with your career. You may experience less stress and have a better work-life balance.
And you can also match an employee’s improved productivity with better pay and additional benefits.
Four ways remote teams can promote upward communication
Remote teams face unique communication challenges. Transparency is compromised without in-person collaboration opportunities. In a traditional office, downward communication may have been enough, but in a remote work environment, upward communication may be the best way to get things done.
Here are four ways employees can open and keep lines of communication with higher-ups so that their concerns are heard, expectations are clear, and their work is recognized.
1. Lean on collaboration tools
Online collaboration tools make it easier to work and communicate remotely. They’re especially powerful for upward communication, as an employee can open up a communication channel with anyone within the organization, including upper-level management.
Platforms like Chanty give teams a central place to organize tasks, store files virtually, and work together. This is great for upward communication since every voice has the same reach and volume.
2. Opt for a video
Over 90% of communication is non-verbal. Using email to come up with a new marketing plan or talk about a serious issue will never be as emotional as a live video conference.
But if an employee works from home, they might not be able to set up a video meeting with upper management, due to a lack of access to the proper equipment or technology issues. Video and screen recording software can help get verbal and non-verbal communication across, even when schedules and time zones don’t align.
3. Remain consistent yet diverse
Upward communication requires consistency. It’s part of a daily schedule or looping routine. Therefore, employees should be consistent with communication. Learning how to manage emails is one way to keep communication practices consistent.
At the same time, messages should be diverse. For example, employees who only reach out with negative feedback may eventually see fewer responses. At the same time, not every message should be inundated with so much positive feedback that it comes off as too much.
Need a little motivation? Remember that upward communication isn’t another checkbox on the to-do list. Employees who improve communication within their organization by paving their way through upward communication get all the benefits of progressive interactions.
4. Authenticity is key
The person you show up as when working remotely shouldn’t be any different from the person you show up as when working in an office.
Authenticity is everything.
But when you work from home, it can be harder to find the right balance between being professional and being yourself. This balance is especially hard for shy people, who may find it harder to talk to upper management if they don’t see people every day.
Consider using a meeting agenda template for one-on-one meetings or management performance reviews to give more direction and boost confidence.
How to avoid common pitfalls
Upward communication offers opportunities and benefits. But there are still a few potential hurdles to look out for, including:
- Over-communication—Set limits and boundaries to prevent communicating too often. The ability to send messages whenever and wherever can often lead to information overload. As a team, set communication windows to avoid overwhelm.
- Redundancy—In upward communication, there are more mouths than ears. When there’s a common suggestion or complaint, employees should elect a single messenger rather than bombarding upper management with the same concern or idea.
- Distortion—Keep the line of communication short. For example, playing phone tag up the work ladder to reach a corporate office can result in a distorted or candy-coated message.
Ready to take on upward communication?
With upward communication, every person within an organization can feel like they’re vital to the company’s performance and achievements. That makes it such a successful form of communication for remote teams. But for upward communication to work in a company, managers, and bosses must be fully on board with it.