5 Painless Ways To Make Office Communication Less Frustrating

Are your days wasted in pointless meetings and your productivity sapped from decoding endless email chains? Join the club. Thankfully, fixing bad communication habits isn't really that hard.

What's on your desk right now? A smartphone? Laptop? Tablet? Landline? Technology is supposed to make your life easier, but what happens when the majority of your day is spent doing work about work?

You know what we’re talking about--meetings that never end, e-mail strings that span days. While we can’t promise you’ll never have to sit through another meeting, try these five tips to cut the clutter and eliminate inefficiency in your workplace.

1. Use the right project management tools consistently.

Instead of spending time flipping between e-mails and to-do lists, keep all the information your team needs in one place. Collaboration tools like Asana allow communication and collaboration without e-mail, and leaders can assign tasks and track progress easily. Jaylen Bledsoe, chief executive officer of Bledsoe Technologies LLC, a St. Louis, Missouri-based technology consulting firm, uses both Asana and Trello with its contractors for web design and development projects.

“I’ve found that you can’t hold an employee accountable if they’ve received 1,001 emails for the same project. Being able to assign a task to an employee, and seeing their productivity, really helps your [company’s] overall productivity,” says Bledsoe.

Many collaboration tools offer free service for smaller teams or free trials so you can test-drive the solution to find the one that works best for your team. Once you select one, be sure to train everyone on how you expect them to use the tool. It may be tempting to fall back into the e-mail trap, so it’s important that everyone use it consistently.

2. Institute email rules.

To avoid never-ending email chains and reply-all nightmares and increase the probability the important emails will be read, Dr. Thomas E. Boyce, president of San Francisco-based Center for Behavioral Safety, suggests implementing common sense email rules. For example, only email people directly involved in the project, and stop sending CC messages to keep everyone “in the loop.” When possible, pick up the phone or walk down the hall to communicate in person.

3. If you must meet, have everyone stand.

Geoff McQueen, CEO of AffinityLive, a San Francisco-based software development company, suggests having everyone stand during the meeting. “This cuts down on time dramatically as standing up gives everyone a sense of urgency,” McQueen says. “It also cuts out distraction since it’s difficult to stand and look through emails on a laptop at the same time,” he says.

4. Discuss, don’t disseminate.

Ron Hequet, a Texas-based business consultant, significantly reduced meetings when he discovered most meetings were used to disseminate information. Rather than have people provide reports that could easily be distributed within the company, Hequet suggests meetings be used for discussion and decision-making purposes only. To that end, it’s important to have an agenda for the meeting and respect everyone’s time, both starting and ending on time, Hequet says.

5. Let your colleagues off the hook.

Only require the people to attend a meeting whose presence is absolutely necessary, says Paul Axtell, a Minnesota-based corporate trainer. If you’re sending an FYI email, let the reader know that no response is required or you aren’t expecting them to take action, he says.

[Image: Flickr user Seth Sawyers]

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