Do workplace communication tools cause an unintentional language barrier?

As you’re well aware, there are a lot of ways to communicate professionally these days. Email, phone calls, video calls, and collaboration software like Microsoft Teams or Slack; all of these platforms have their individual nuances, expected etiquette, and niches. While having options is fantastic at streamlining workplace digital collaboration, a new study finds it can simultaneously lead to miscommunication and even employee conflict.   

In this issue of The Pulse, we look at that study’s findings.  

Full-time, American employees were surveyed about communication methods.  

A recent study by corporate language training firm, Preply, found that among over a thousand full-time U.S.-based employees, a generational language barrier exists when it comes to communication tools. Of the participants, only 7% were Baby Boomers, while 23% were Gen X, 62% were Millennials, and 8% were Gen Z. 

The survey found that: 

  • Nearly 90% of employees blame email for workplace miscommunications.  
  • Approximately two in five employees have deleted work-related voicemails before fully listening to them. 
  • Baby Boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, are the most likely to utilize voice messages for professional communication, while the majority of employees (around 75%) are reducing the amount of time they spend on the phone.  

Generational differences in communication preferences exist, and there’s no denying that. However, the study also took a look at the mediums employees use to communicate with one another and their associated expectations based on that medium.  

How are people choosing to communicate? 

When asked which methods they found preferable for workplace communication, Preply found: 

  • 86% were amenable to email. 
  • 59% liked direct messages, such as over Slack or Teams. 
  • 52% were okay with text messages. 
  • Only 31% liked phone calls and fewer (11%) preferred other forms of voice messages.  

Likewise, the majority of respondents (67%) wanted a written method of communication before receiving a phone call, indicating there’s an increased desire for stronger employee boundaries. Although not surprising, these findings reflect a greater trend within the workplace and should be considered, especially when paired with remote working environments.  

Be fluent, be flexible. 

Facilitating effective business communication means bridging the gap between different preferences and generational habits and becoming fluent in all these platforms. In order to truly possess exceptional communication skills, you and your employees must be comfortable and coherent over email, the phone, collaboration software, and any other potential mediums. If you’re not, you’re risking a sort of language barrier with clients, colleagues, and other contacts.  

Even if you feel fluent across all platforms, the people you’re interacting with might not be, so it is important to become adaptable to others’ communication preferences. Best business communication practice involves determining the preferences of those you contact for work, within your organization or not.   

For example, Preply found nearly one-third of respondents who received unexpected phone calls from colleagues felt anxious or uneasy about it. Likewise, the survey found that younger respondents, in Gen Z, tended to regard phone calls as more suited to personal discussions, compared to other generations. Gauging and understanding a contact’s perspective is critical for business best practice. 

In conclusion… 

It might be easy to dig your heels in and stick to the communication tools that you’re the most comfortable with, but that could easily set you back in the long run. It’s important to encourage adaptability in your workplace culture because as it turns out, expectations will always differ among employees as long as generational differences still exist. The best thing you can do for your workplace success is to be comfortable with as many methods as possible and approach every conversation flexibly.