Jim VandeHei, co-founder of Axios (left) and Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Slack (right)

As companies grow, effective internal communication becomes even more important. One confusing message from an editor can slow down the entire chain. Add in remote working and you have a growing need to make communication as clear as possible.

In an online event with Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei and Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield, the pair traded tips on improving internal communication.

There was a lot of good talk about technical solutions and leadership techniques but fundamentally, none of that truly matters without putting your recipient first.

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"So much of writing is self-indulgent," says VandeHei.

"If you just change your frame to what the other person needs to know or do, that radically changes how you communicate forever."

Consider embracing newspaper writing, adds Butterfield. Short, clear sentences are key to clarity. Summarise what is essential and what the receiver needs to enact. They should not need to mine through paragraphs of writing to know what is needed of them.

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Part of Slack's onboarding process for new hires is to identify the expectations of internal communications. At its core, it is simply providing clear information and instructions for the person on the other end.

Other tips include:

  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Get teams well-drilled on which tasks take priority as they arise and what they need to do independently. Make quick decisions and clean up afterwards.
  • Encourage the use of a dedicated communication channel for questions, but keep it focused on its intended subject and purpose.
  • Embrace the best mode of communication for different teams, such as instant messages, email, or group messages. Monitor responsiveness and make adjustments as needed.
  • Consider enforcing 'do not disturb' hours for productivity surges. Multi-tasking is usually the enemy of getting things done.
  • Lead messages with bad news first and good news second: "Bad news is essential, good news is never urgent". This works top-down and bottom-up.

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