I’ve written about task and communication overload in the modern workplace many times before.
I call it Corporate Whack-Attack. It often feels as though we’re playing the Whack-a-Mole game that you see at fair grounds and amusement parks.
COVID-19, and the sudden shift to mass homeworking, has just created Extreme Whack-Attack.
In the past few days, I’ve noticed people getting over-whelmed with the sheer volume of messages that are coming at us through multiple channels. You’re probably a member of more WhatsApp groups than ever before, and they’re probably busier than they were two weeks ago.
Your inbox is probably getting busier. You’ve no doubt got more instant messages, MS Teams notifications, Trello notifications, Zoom invites etc, etc.
It’s hard to keep up with everything, right?
And whilst we feel like we’re drowning in this sea of communication overload, we perpetuate the problem by sending more and more messages ourselves.
Where are you up to on X? Can I get a status update on Y? Hey, check out this funny video someone just sent me on WhatsApp…
And then we get frustrated when people don’t respond to us as quickly as we’d like, on what’s important to us, at that moment in time.
A friend and supplier to my business made a very generous offer to everyone in a particular WhatsApp group that I’m a member of last week. He essentially offered to help us for free, or defer payment, on anything that would help us or help us better serve our clients.
I completely missed his message, as did everyone else in the group. I only spotted it days later, completely buried in the conversation thread; and I felt really bad. It felt like I’d just been completely ignorant and kicked sand in his face.
What was worse, was that everyone else in the group missed the message too.
As leaders, we need to be aware of this and take action. We need to demonstrate Communication Empathy by focusing on three key areas.
Ensuring our teams feel connected whilst working remotely in these uncertain times is critically important, so yes, we do need to communicate more. (Watch my video about leading remote teams in uncertain times here.)
It’s also important to maintain morale, have fun and occasionally share some of those amusing memes that we’re seeing. And at the same time, we must be mindful of not sending so many messages that we add to people’s stress and anxiety.
Be patient…not demanding
Everyone has a lot going on right now.
Our team members may be self-isolating or shopping for friends and family who are. They may be worried about their health or that of a loved one. They may be juggling their work, their partner’s work and trying to home school their children (that’s my particular reality right now).
All of this means that people may not respond to us as quickly as we would like them to. It also means that the emails and messages will get missed.
Be patient. Give people time.
Be empathetic…not angry
If you offer to help someone and they don’t respond, it can feel like they’ve kicked sand in your face. When we’re feeling anxious and stressed ourselves the natural, instinctive response can so easily be “well screw you, that’s the last time I offer to help”.
But that person may be just like me…and you. They may have just missed your message due to communication overwhelm. Or they may have read it, planning to respond later but got side-tracked by something else.
In all of these circumstances, stay empathetic.
Be a leader.