Can Companies Overcome Communication Overload?
Change happens quickly. So should communication.
Originally published by OZY on March 29, 2018.
Andrew Malcolm has a hard time shutting down at the end of the workday. When he wakes up in the morning, he admits he is tempted to check his messages. Before he knows it, he is besieged. “I roll over and look, and the first two screens have red dots on stuff I am supposed to check,” says Malcolm. Personal email, work email, Slack, SMS, WhatsApp, WeChat, Skype—he is assaulted from all sides.
According to data from an Evernote survey on millennials in the workplace:
26 percent of young professionals say the hardest part of their job is managing the multiple ways to communicate and share information with colleagues.
As it happens, Malcolm is also the chief growth officer at Evernote, an app aimed at boosting productivity and diminishing digital clutter. He’s noticed that the “information overload” he experiences as an individual is compounded every time another person gets added to the equation. The larger the team working on a project becomes, the harder it is to weed out less important information and focus collectively on what’s important.
Innovative companies are looking at how to help their employees overcome the deluge of ideas, notes, messages and other information that risk slowing them down. Malcolm, for one, envisions a near future where a conglomerate service will do for communication what Kayak did for travel—that is, streamline the pings, emails, chats and texts into a single format. In the meantime, Evernote has features like Spaces, a work chart that allows project managers to organize their thoughts (and those of their team) by “pinning” everything from brainstorming ideas to project time lines.
Tools like Evernote and Trello are utilizing a project management system that has long been championed by programmers: Agile. It’s partly a method of breaking projects up into manageable chunks, but it’s also a highly visual approach. Today, the method is being employed in a variety of industries.
Toacca Rutherford, a Managing Director in Global Technology at JPMorgan Chase, has found a significant change in how teams collaborate and communicate across the company. On her team, visually charting progress is key. Not only has JPMorgan Chase embraced the open floor plan, but it has implemented writable walls, printable whiteboards and other tools that allow for visual management of activities, according to Rutherford. “What’s really interesting is that the open workspace is also intentionally about transparency,” she notes.
The short cycles provide valuable feedback and learning opportunities for team members.Toacca Rutherford, a Managing Director in Global Technology at JPMorgan Chase
As markets shift and new technology and client needs evolve, companies have had to adapt by building teams that are more nimble. One way they’ve done this is by introducing Scrum, a work style that involves small teams collaborating on manageable chunks of a large project while keeping the overall customer goals in mind. These chunks of work are packaged into Sprints—typically a dedicated 2-3 week period designed for completing a project and helping teams learn by doing and adapting.
“The short cycles provide valuable feedback and learning opportunities for team members, while ensuring product owner and stakeholder collaboration along the way,” says Rutherford.
Team members work together to uncover issues and get immediate feedback about risks or schedule overruns and adjust through Sprint planning. At the end of each Sprint, teams hold a meeting to review the work and discuss what went well, what didn’t, and how the team can improve. This helps build shared understanding over a short period of time.
One thing is certain: The pace of change shows no signs of slowing. To keep up with ever-adapting times, companies need to find and use methods that allow them to move with the speed of the times.
“Scrum is an incredibly effective framework we use to ensure our teams stay agile,” says Rutherford.