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A hybrid workforce has many advantages, often bringing increases in productivity, work-life balance and talent from anywhere. But when collaboration gets more amorphous, it can bring an increase in communication silos, too.
In fact, silo mentality is one of the most significant obstacles to organizational success in hybrid settings. Because communication takes more effort when we’re not face-to-face, it means that employees are often not sharing information with departments or teams as frequently (or in the same way) as they previously did. These lapses and miscommunications can lead to unhealthy competition, frustration and decreased productivity — as it’s more likely to have several people working on the same task without being aware of each other. The result: wasted energy, wasted resources and drops in morale.
What’s more, when employees work in silos, it hurts innovation, taking a toll on overall results as well. Just to give you an idea of how detrimental a silo mentality is, new research shows poor workplace communication costs U.S. businesses $1.2 trillion per year. Meanwhile, more than 9 in 10 business leaders (96%) agree that “effective communication is essential for delivering the business results expected of [their] team in the coming year.”
So, how can these silos be bridged? In theory, overcoming a silo mentality can be easily achieved by building a space of psychological safety and free expression. There are many great collaboration tools to enable the distributed workforce to come together and contribute to projects as well. However, the reality of hybrid and remote work is somewhat different, and it takes more effort and dedication to foster genuine and effective internal communication.
Tips for success
As bad as workplace silos are for hybrid companies, people often find them comfortable. This makes it harder to fight them, but, thankfully, it’s not impossible. Any organization can take a few steps to ensure its employees are communicating and collaborating to achieve their full potential.
I speak from experience. When I started my company, we had a small team, and it was easy to share ideas and work together. As the company grew, I became the CEO of a distributed, global company where remote work was the norm, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. We faced some of the challenges of communication and collaboration in a predominantly virtual setting. As our focus is teaching and learning innovation, employees and leaders have had to be creative and bounce ideas off of each other to come up with optimal solutions for both our products and internal processes.
Here are some areas we’ve found that help break down communication silos.
1. A healthy organizational culture
Company culture refers to the values, behaviors and attitudes generally accepted within an organization. It influences everything from how employees see their roles to how they communicate with colleagues and superiors. Leaders must be mindful of this and strive to build and maintain a positive culture.
The elements of great company culture, according to Bamboo HR, are: fostering diversity, focusing on onboarding, encouraging employees, being inclusive, recognizing and rewarding employees, and preparing for the future.
Of course, no two organizational cultures are the same, so it’s essential to figure out and articulate your company’s values and how they translate into a culture focused on your people and their well-being. When employees feel they are heard and that their input is valuable, they’re more likely to break out of silos.
2. A learning ecosystem focused on soft skills
Preparing for the future isn’t just essential to positive company culture; it’s also a requirement for any organization that wants to succeed long-term. Building and nurturing a good learning ecosystem that supports continuous education, re-skilling, upskilling and right-skilling ensures that employees remain productive when circumstances change.
Apart from measurable hard skills, however, companies also have to focus on developing employee soft skills. These include open and productive communication, effective problem-solving and intercultural competence, which are all relevant for ensuring unfettered collaboration in hybrid, geographically dispersed teams. Using an online learning platform will also help learning and development (L&D) teams design relevant learning experiences and content suited for their workforce’s diverse and evolving communication and collaboration needs.
3. The right communication technologies
There is no shortage of communication tools that promise to increase productivity and make communication a breeze. They can certainly do that — but only if you find the suitable ones for your organization. Before acquiring any software, regardless of how slick the marketing presentation sounds, it’s best to ask for a demo or, if possible, a trial period. It’s the best way to know that your teams will benefit from it.
It’s also essential to ensure you get the proper training and support for any new platform, as the adoption process may take some time. If your goal is to have employees collaborate effectively, they must know how to use the technology and see its benefits. Feeling comfortable with using communication tools will make information-sharing easier.
Breaking down and preventing silos
The “new normal” has already established itself as a combination of a hybrid workforce and a gig economy. Companies are increasingly global and teams and talent are geographically scattered. These attributes come with challenges, along with tremendous innovation opportunities — as long as companies know how detrimental silo mentalities can be and focus on building a positive culture, providing excellent learning opportunities and employing the right communication technologies to break silos down (and prevent them in the first place).