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Collaboration

What is horizontal communication?

Learn what horizontal communication is, how it fosters an effective workplace and ways to implement it on your team

By the team at SlackNovember 19th, 2021

Think about how much time employees on the same team or department spend in meetings together, messaging back and forth, or collaborating on projects. It’s a lot, right? Effective horizontal communication plays a key role in the success of any business. But what is horizontal communication, and how can your own organization get better at it?

What is horizontal communication?

Horizontal communication, sometimes referred to as lateral communication, encompasses workplace communications among people, departments or teams at the same level in an organization.

Pros and cons of horizontal communication

As with any type of workplace communication, there are upsides and downsides. When done correctly, horizontal communication fosters teamwork, visibility and accountability among employees at the same hierarchical level. Proper horizontal communication should create a feeling of unity, ensuring everyone is working toward the same goals together and not competing against one another or higher-ups.

However, ineffective horizontal communication can create pitfalls and bottlenecks in your business. When employees have too many platforms to check or are left dealing with inefficient communication processes, it can do more harm than good. For example, tending to email alone takes up about 28% of an average employee’s workweek.

The problem is, there’s often too much or just plain ineffective horizontal communication that can hold you back instead of propel you forward. Let’s say your marketing department has a three-hour meeting every week to walk through the status of all its projects. By implementing project management software and an instant messaging tool like Slack, everyone in the department has full visibility into each task and can stay connected throughout the week. Three hours could easily transform into a quick 30-minute meeting to address key points and challenges.

Here are some more horizontal communication tips to help transform the way your employees interact and collaborate.

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How to improve horizontal communication

Effective horizontal communication is a crucial component of business success. While that will look different for every company, there are some simple strategies for better communication that can be quickly implemented in nearly any organization.

Replace unnecessary emails with an instant messaging platform

When it comes to email, an acceptable response rate could be anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. But messaging platforms are designed for real-time conversations. When you need an immediate answer or fast access to a document, these collaborative platforms can cut down on back-and-forth and expedite response times.

Instant messaging is also more casual. You don’t need to worry about polite intros or formal sign-offs, which saves precious time and energy.

While there’s definitely a place for more formal conversations, messaging apps like Slack are the way to go for both linear and nonlinear daily communications. No shuffling through tabs, searching through chains or wondering if that person even saw your message.

Set communication boundaries

When your device is constantly beeping with a steady stream of emails, chats and calls, it can be nearly impossible to focus on the work that matters most. Effective communication doesn’t mean you’re available 24/7. It’s important to set boundaries and put processes in place to ensure you can collaborate with your team and still get your own work done.

Here are a few tips you can leverage to balance being available with being productive when using Slack, also known as nonlinear communication. It’s a way to more efficiently manage and prioritize both incoming and outgoing messages.

  • Set a notification schedule to receive notifications only at certain times
  • Put yourself on “do not disturb” when doing deep dives
  • Mute distracting or irrelevant channels
  • Star channels and messages to organize conversations as priorities and deadlines shift

Leverage Slack channels

Slack channels are a way to organize specific groups of people around a particular topic or project, providing a team or department with a shared view into the work being done. They create clarity and visibility around roles and responsibilities by giving everyone involved insight into tasks, outlining necessary dependencies and raising red flags when a piece is missing or a due date is looming. This helps work get done more efficiently and with fewer errors.

With access to the same information, everyone in the channel can work in sync. Plus, since the conversation history is auto-saved, new team members can have full context into what’s been going on no matter when they join.

Aside from conversations about a project, topic or task, channels can also be used to build rapport among teams and departments. Some of the most popular Slack channels are informal and social, including #music, #podcasts or #industrynews.

Horizontal workplace communication doesn’t always need to be about work tasks. Remember, employees who are engaged and feel that they’re part of a dynamic team will be more productive, efficient and empowered to work toward team and organizational goals.

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