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10 Ground rules for business messaging that leaders need to implement

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The workplace is evolving. There’s no denying that people’s work habits and preferences are changing in lockstep with this evolution. More businesses are encouraging workers to bring their whole selves to work. Likewise, business tools are now designed to look and feel more like consumer grade social tools.

As more people now have the freedom to use messaging apps for at work, business leaders and HR teams can find themselves navigating tricky situations. Many of us have heard of conversation threads going awry or peers complaining about off-color messages.

At Flock, we believe businesses should strive for transparency and enable direct collaboration across teams and employees. The payoff for improved collaboration is substantial. According to Salesforce, 86% of workers say that lack of communication accounts for workplace failures. But when people start chatting about projects, hobbies, or even politics at work, tensions are bound to arise. It’s important for leaders to establish ground rules around messaging to ensure that teams work effectively together and keep things from going off the rails.

With a little bit of thought, you can ensure that your team uses messaging tools to their full potential—whether it’s for conversations on a specific project work or general bonding. At Flock, we have our own “10 commandments” for respectful workplace communications.

Here are 10 rules we think every business should set for internal messaging:

  1. Push for transparency and communication but be explicit about acceptable and unacceptable behavior
  2. Ask employees to send messages that they would say in person
  3. Ask everyone to assume good intent
  4. Avoid sending messages or @ teammates in off hours
  5. Ask coworkers and teams to share their messaging preferences
  6. Specify if a message is urgent or if it can wait
  7. Encourage employees to use DND and mute channels
  8. Set some ground rules for how topic-oriented channels should operate
  9. Make it clear that conversations aren’t 100% private
  10. Have clear escalation paths for inappropriate behavior

Realize your team's potential to do great things! Check out our guide to effective team collaboration.

1. Push for transparency and communication but be explicit about acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Set ground rules for how you expect employees to communicate with each other. Having a codified set of expectations that everyone can access ensures that everyone understands the rules of engagement. Make sure you call out unacceptable behavior clearly. Post your rules of engagement in your company announcements channel, pin it so it’s easily accessible, and add it to your new hire onboarding processes. 

2. Ask employees to send messages that they would say in person

Tensions can arise any time a group of people have to spend most of their days together. Just as you want employees to be respectful of each other in person, they should do the same virtually. Acknowledge the phenomena that people sometimes send things behind the security of a screen that they would otherwise never say in person. Then set the expectation that communication software is used at work to enable productive collaboration and that everyone needs to be respectful towards each other.

3. Ask everyone to assume good intent

It can be hard to figure out tone with messaging and email. In the spur of the moment, an innocuous line of text may read as a complaint or criticism. Ask you employees to consider two things when messaging:

  • Check if the message they’re sending matches the tone they’re hoping to establish
  • Take a step back after receiving a message and assume good intent from the sender, rather than the worst case scenario

This is not to take away from truly disruptive or inappropriate messaging behavior, which we address later in this post. Assuming good intent is a great general practice to build a culture of understanding and avoid unintentional miscommunication, but it should not be a bandaid for larger behavior issues.

4. Avoid sending messages or directly mentioning teammates in off hours

Many workers struggle with expectations of being always on. Messaging software enables quick collaboration and flexible work, it also can exacerbate an always on mentality when used improperly. It is up to leadership to create a culture that encourages maintaining a good work-life balance. Leaders can first set the example by avoiding sending messages during off hours. Encourage folks who prefer to work off hours to not directly @ mention colleagues who may be with family or taking well deserved time off. If messages need to be sent during off hours, have the message sender indicate if something is truly urgent or if it can wait so people don’t feel pressured to respond immediately.

5. Ask coworkers and teams to share their messaging preferences

Encourage employees to ask each other how they prefer to communicate. Many folks like to use messaging for quick questions but prefer email for topics that require more thought or attention. Asking employees to think about their coworkers’ messaging preferences builds empathy as well as mutual respect for each other’s working styles.

6. Specify if a message is urgent or if it can wait

When making a request via messaging, it’s a best practice to let the person know when they need to respond. Just like in the off hours example, explicitly call out if you need an immediate answer. If the request is less urgent, give them a due date. If you’re simply giving a teammate a heads up, let them know that the message is informational and requires no response.

7. Encourage employees to use “Do not disturb” and mute channels

Messaging tools like Flock have features meant to help people turn off, for good reason. We work better when we are not constantly interrupted. Encourage people to proactively turn on ‘Do not disturb’ so that coworkers know they’re unreachable and to mute active channels to reduce the number of notifications they receive.

8. Set some ground rules for how topic-oriented channels should operate

One of the best things about business messaging software is the ability to create custom channels for special interests like sports, movies, or books. Messaging software enable conversations and team building that may otherwise never happen. For instance, the Flock team loves chatting in our many channels for shared interests , and I can personally say they have helped us all better connect as coworkers. However, it is important for leadership to give some guidance on acceptable behavior and empower employees to make sure conversations stay respectful (except for our #sportstalk channel, where trash talking is basically required).

9. Make it clear that conversations aren’t 100% private

Business messaging software contains more robust security and compliance controls than consumer-grade messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. For businesses, records are kept for compliance, HR, or legal reasons. Business-grade tools like Flock allow company admins to export all message records, so it’s a good idea to let your employees know that what they discuss isn’t 100% private.

10. Have clear escalation paths for inappropriate behavior

Lastly, provide clear escalation paths if someone feels uncomfortable about a conversation or message thread. It can be an anonymous feedback form or HR email address. If you’ve set clear ground rules for communication, everyone in your company should be able to identify what is and isn’t okay. It’s crucial that leaders do not put the onus on employees who may already feel disenfranchised or harassed to resolve issues.

Great things happen when people talk to each other

Messaging and collaboration software are incredibly powerful tools to jumpstart communication and help teams work better together. Ultimately, company culture is key to creating healthy internal messaging norms. At Flock, we believe that leaders must establish ground rules and set an example for how the wider team should communicate to generate the best results.

Want to jumpstart your team's communication? Try Flock's Messenger and Videoconferencing tool!

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