Slack? Phone? Teams? Zoom? There Are Too Many Work Communications | Kanebridge News
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Slack? Phone? Teams? Zoom? There Are Too Many Work Communications

Workplaces become saturated with ways to talk, often breeding mistakes and misunderstandings

Thu, Apr 27, 2023 8:43amGrey Clock 4 min

Lisa Donovan was juggling pings from multiple Slack channels and email windows when she inadvertently sent a sensitive company document to the wrong person.

The part-time accountant for a Virginia-based academic coaching firm toggles between 30 instant-messaging channels, four client-email accounts and at least a dozen phone or video calls a day, she says.

“It’s, like, ‘Are we on Zoom? Are we on Teams? Did I respond to that? Did I say it right?’” says Ms. Donovan, who works from Richmond, Texas.

There are so many ways to communicate at work that our communication is breaking down. Bosses say missed messages and crossed signals waste time and trigger mistakes, while research suggests that so much virtual communication makes it easier to snipe at or ignore co-workers. Then there’s the stress of having to stay on top of so many different channels all the time.

Microsoft Corp.’s Teams use has surged to more than 280 million monthly active users. Zoom Video Communications Inc.’s business customers have nearly tripled to more than 210,000 since the start of the pandemic, and Salesforce Inc.’s Slack is also growing. In many cases, the clients of each overlap and use the tools on top of emails, texts and in-house messaging forums.

All of it is enough to make workers long for the days of complaining about email-inbox overload.

“It’s overwhelming,” says Wendy Weinberger, Ms. Donovan’s boss and head of the firm. The company’s IT department was able to successfully recall the sensitive email.

In a 2022 Harris Poll survey of more than 1,200 workers and executives, bosses estimated that their teams lost an average 7.47 hours—nearly an entire day—to poor communications a week. Based on an average salary of $66,967, the lost time translates to a cost of $12,506 per employee a year, according to the report conducted on behalf of Grammarly, a proofreading software company.

A new study from executive-search firm Korn Ferry found that communication misfires have helped to make some work relationships less pleasant and collegial. Among 357 professionals surveyed in recent weeks, nearly half said that remote work made it easier for colleagues to get away with rude behaviour such as interrupting on calls and not returning emails.

Remote work has accentuated colleagues’ different communication habits, and their potential to clash, some employees say.

“These tools that are meant to make communication easier have a dark side,” says Michele Simon, a Los Angeles-based lawyer specialising in workplace trauma. A new Pepperdine University study on workplace toxicity that surveyed 800 office workers found that 35% cited communication problems as the top barrier to getting ahead in today’s workplace—ahead of office politics (29%), small budgets (26%) or ineffective plans (20%).

Michelle Sooknanan says that at her previous job as a sales manager for a Florida food manufacturer, her boss would often call her impromptu via video as she worked from her home office in Portsmouth, N.H.

She says she found the unscheduled calls to her desktop computer stressful and asked that, outside of scheduled calls with the team, she be contacted only by email or instant message. Her manager emailed a couple of days later that her request couldn’t be accommodated, and that video would sometimes be necessary.

Ms. Sooknanan says the tension contributed to her eventual departure. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Multiple modes of communication get more complex as the number of people on a conversation thread grows, says Jessica Carlson, a former director of supply-chain operations at Nestlé SA who left the company in March. Wrestling with post-Covid supply-chain challenges often took place over multiple time zones and forums.

“You could have an email chain, a text thread, a videoconference call and an in-person one-on-one about the same topic all within 24 hours,” says Ms. Carlson, who has since founded consulting firm headStrat Solutions.

Many companies have largely left it to teams and co-workers to sort out how they communicate, which can add to the confusion. For workers feeling overwhelmed, making a clear choice ahead of time can help, says Sally Susman, chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer Inc. and author of a recent book on improving workplace communications.

She suggests asking teammates or other colleagues what their communication preferences are, while also being unafraid to state your own.

In the absence of in-person social cues, she adds, the voice becomes more important. Use it to transmit collegiality and other positive qualities that would ordinarily be picked up in person. Even in email or text messages, small touches like “Hi there” can exude warmth in formats that ordinarily feel cold and transactional.

Some companies are trying to come up with new ways for workers to get messages across. Archer Daniels Midland Co. has corralled its modes of communication by linking instant messaging, email, video and social-media style updates into one central hub.

It’s “air-traffic control,” says Brett Lutz, vice president of global communications at Archer Daniels Midland. He says the forum, powered by workplace communications software company Firstup, lets workers see stories, images and other updates.

Shopify Inc., the e-commerce and retail technology company, recently instructed staff to shift to Meta Platforms Inc.’s Workplace, which combines instant messaging, videoconferencing and other communications tools.

“Email hasn’t evolved in the last 30 years. And it still sucks,” Shopify Chief Operating Officer Kaz Nejatian wrote in a January memo to staff.

To get there, though, employees would have to check their email for an invitation to join. “Didn’t get that email? Check Okta or ping #help-chaos,” he continued, referring to two more ways employees could inquire about an invite.


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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