The drastic shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced employees and managers to adapt their communication strategies. Communication is often cited as critical to remote worker success but has rarely been examined within a remote work context. New research, featured in Journal of Applied Psychology, examines how communication quality, communication frequency, and communication expectations relate to employee performance and wellbeing.
COMMUNICATION: QUALITY VERSUS QUANTITY
The researchers surveyed 471 U.S. employees who transitioned from primarily in-person
work to 100% remote work at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants completed
daily surveys over the course of four weeks. Results showed that more frequent communication
was associated with higher levels of employee performance. In fact, counter to theories
concerning communication overload, this relationship became exponentially stronger
as the frequency of communication increased. Results also showed that increased communication
frequency was related to more, rather than less, employee burnout.
While greater communication frequency helps performance, it can also increase burnout, suggesting a performance-burnout tradeoff. The researchers also considered daily communication quality, or the extent that employees receive key information needed to do their job. They found communication quality related to higher employee performance and to lower levels of burnout. In addition, results also indicated that when supervisors set clear communication expectations, it was associated with higher employee performance and lower levels of employee burnout.
The results of this study can inform multiple managerial practices. First, managers should be aware that high quality communication can have benefits for both individual performance and wellbeing. On the other hand, high frequency communication has a weaker relationship with employee performance and could even lead to employee burnout. Managers should work to implement procedures that facilitate the efficient transfer of key information to employees, rather than focus on the frequency with which employees and managers communicate.
Finally, setting communication expectations was beneficial for both performance and wellbeing. The researchers suggest that managers should hold discussions with employees about how communication strategies can meet the individual needs of the employee and the supervisor.