back

Formal vs. Informal Communication (Examples, Challenges, Best Practices)

The two primary internal communication types are formal and informal communication:

Formal communication is communication through pre-defined channels set by organizations. They are typically conveyed from top leadership to various departments that funnels down to lower level employees. It is backed by organizational procedure, and it is necessary to fulfill the goals of the organization.

Informal communication is more relational than formal. It is not backed by any pre-determined channels and can happen anywhere within the organization. The primary goal of this messaging is to preserve and establish relationships with colleagues and superiors and subordinates. Since it is not defined by any channels, messaging moves a lot faster, but it is without any paper trail or official documentation.

 

Part 1

Why Are These Forms of Communication Important?

In its purest form, formal communication is created to increase efficiency within an organization.

Pre-determined channels of communication are meant to provide a smooth and streamlined method of communication that travels upward and downward.

It is the way to easily communicate rules, procedures, and company policy to lower level employees.

A formal notification is also favorable in situations where documentation is needed to prove or disapprove a claim or complaint. If someone violated company policy or broke a rule against another coworker, it is easy for employees to point to formal communications between staff and upper management.

Informal communication, as stated above, is all about relationships; if a culture of goodwill and relationship is adequately fostered by the company, then informal discussions can create solidarity and strengthen teams. However, one of the most important reasons for why informal communication is critical to businesses is that it allows employees to give feedback to their superiors. It facilitates the action of upward interface and enables messaging to go both ways efficiently. When employees are given the opportunity to comment on their experiences in the company informally, it puts the ball back in the court of upper management to improve and meet their expectations. This action then leads to higher employee morale.

Also, informal communication can pick up where formal discussions end. A great example of this is conflict resolution. If employees or managers and employees can resolve their problems informally, then this can prevent the need for upper management to have to get involved and elongate the matter.

Part 2

What Is the State of Modern Internal Communications?

Many factors are impacting the state of internal communication in today’s workplace. Technology is changing the way people want to interact with each other, and it is creating a disruption in the workplace in ways never before seen.

RingCentral, a provider of cloud-based communications and collaboration solutions for businesses, listed some of their findings from a survey about modern communication trends in the workplace.

  • 97 percent of their respondents believed that communication impacted tasks on a daily basis.
  • 44 percent of respondents want more widespread adoption of internal communication tools.
  • When asked about how they would like these tools to evolve in 2015, 17 percent wanted better usage of these tools.

A conversation about formal and informal communication cannot happen without acknowledging the impact of technology. To see how information is funneling from management to employees and from employees to co-workers it would be helpful to gain insight on how email, text messages, and tools like Status.net have a hand in how these messages are happening. Here are a few other statistics that business leaders should be concerned about concerning formal and informal communications within the company.

  • An infographic and survey compiled by ClearCompany revealed that only 14 percent of companies have employees who understand the organization’s strategies, goals, and direction.
  • Another stat from that survey showed that only 5.9 percent of companies communicate the organization’s goals every day.

In today’s world, communication is as critical as it ever was. The only problem is that companies might not be utilizing all the tools and procedures at their disposal to better facilitate effective communications from upper management to lower employees, and from employees to their colleagues.

Part 3

The Challenges of Formal and Informal Communication

Formal Communication Challenges

  1. Acknowledging a New Generation

    With the increase of social media and a favoring of more informal communication methods by millennials, companies are going to have to go easy on the formal board meeting and email memos. Younger generations prefer having multiple ways of communicating whether it be through social media platforms, text messaging, and co-working software. Business leaders are trying to find effective ways to incorporate new mediums of communicating company vision, policy and procedures.

  2. Buy-In from Employees

    Many times, it can be more comfortable for formal messaging to be accepted by employees if it is done in a way that is more about the “why” than the “what.” Authoritative tones can be a turn-off, so upper management has to be sure to balance conversations about rules and procedures with how they align with the overall goal of the company. If not, employees may not be ready to buy in totally.

  3. Inflexibility

    As a result of the messaging coming through pre-determined channels, many voices in upper management have to be heard before a message is sent down the ranks. A lot of people have to agree and approve what is being sent out. This makes it difficult for anyone to change a formal message if something needs to be tweaked or left out.

  4. Contributes to a Lack of Understanding

    Mass formal communications that are not tailored to everyone’s communication style can create confusion and stress. A new procedure can be worded in a way that it means one thing to one employee and an entirely different thing to another. It is challenging for upper management to account for a general lack of communication.

  5. Slow Decision Making

    Some employees and departments depend on formal messaging from upper management to make important decisions. As mentioned above, because it takes a lot of people to sign off on a decision or message from top management it can take a lot longer to reach who it needs to. Therefore, formal communication can be frustrating to managers or employees who need it. It can even cause the demise of a product or project.

Informal Communication Challenges

  1. Rumors Can Spread Rapidly

    While informal communication is excellent for creating relationships and producing unity among staff, those same communication flows can also present opportunities for rumors to spread. Because messaging is not pre-determined or controlled, it makes this event even more likely. This means that other employees might be receiving incorrect information about procedures, critical changes, or policies from colleagues or managers.

  2. Lack of Control

    Informal communication is impossible to control. It is not affiliated with management-approved channels, and as a result, it does not necessarily obey the same messaging rules as formal communication. As a result, problematic issues such as harassment, bullying, or sensitive information sharing could be taking place. If an employee does not alert management about these predicaments, it would be impossible for them to know and stop any problems.

  3. An Increase in Conflict

    As in any setting, as humans interact with each other, a conflict has a higher chance of happening. It can breed competition among employees or departments or problems between superiors and subordinates. In turn, this can decrease or halt productivity.

  4. Contradict Formal Communications

    Informal communication can directly contradict information sent from pre-defined channels. Someone may say they heard something different than the official memo sent from upper management, or a manager might confuse formal communications and provide an inaccurate explanation to an employee with a question. Upper management can dictate when and how messaging flows from their channels, but they cannot determine how those messages are interpreted or spread to others.

  5. Lack of Secrecy

    Again, a lack of control increases the chance for company secrets to travel. A rumored promotion, coming retirement, or the advent of a new product not yet released to all parts of the company might be leaked to others who do not need to know. This can potentially damage a new product release or breach the trust of employees.

Part 4

Informal and Formal Communication Best Practices

  • Foster a Culture of Effective Communications
    Employees respond well if they feel they can trust that upper management has their best interest at heart. Formal communication does not start when the messages are sent; it begins the second an employee begins their first day. Upper management should reach out to employees in ways that do not always feel rigid and formal to increase their trust and buy-in. This will make it easier for them to accept more essential messages and stay away from potential rumors.
  • Streamlined Decision Making
    Employees can become agitated if a work task depends on formal communication channels of upper management. Leaders can decrease this frustration by better assessing who needs to be involved in the decision-making process and utilizing an approach to get decisions to employees faster.
  • Talk About the “Why” Behind the Rules
    To ensure a safe environment for everyone, there should be established policies for formal and informal communications. However, business leaders should explain why these rules exist and why breaking them can impact the work environment of those around them. The conversation should center on behaviors and how they should align with the mission and vision of the company.

Check Status.net cloud solution for effective formal communication. It brings a more light-hearted tone to messaging making it easily digestible, and makes it easy for upper management to provide and receive updates regularly.

 

How to use status.net for status updates

  1. Easily implement daily or weekly status updates for your team members by creating a status feed with questions like “What did you do today?” or “How did you contribute to the team’s goals this week?”.
  2. Peace of mind: No one forgets to fill in their status updates because status.net sends timely reminders according to the recurrence schedule you chose.
  3. Increase workplace satisfaction by improving transparency:
    Each status update has a separate section for comments, which is used by team members to clarify information, including upcoming goals, and by leaders to provide feedback and coordinate better without micromanagement.
  4. Use status updates for future reference and decrease time and efforts spent on monthly, quarterly, and yearly reporting thanks to powerful filtering and export features.
  5. Optionally, enrich reports with the latest updates automatically added from web apps your team uses (such as project management tools, version control systems, support systems, financial applications, CRM, etc.) by connecting these apps to your status feed.
  6. Spend less time on meetings by making them more productive because everyone is on the same page at all times.
  7. Sharing: Status updates can be either— exported to files and printed, or sent by email;
    — shared with manager online; or
    — shared online as company-wide or team-wide status reports, i.e., all team members share their progress with each other.

How to configure status updates:

Step 1:

  • Create a “Status Update” feed and set up a recurrence.
  • Configure who will write and read status updates by choosing the “Participants” tab and then clicking the “Cog” button near “Feed Participants” title.
how to create status updates status feed

Options:

  • Set the status feed as “Team-wide” if you want all team members to view each other’s status updates.
  • Alternatively, you can allow access to status updates for certain participants only (such as yourself if you’re a team lead). In this case, turn “Team-wide” mode OFF and restrict viewing by unchecking “View” properties for other participants. Team members with the “View” checkbox unchecked will only be able to view their own status updates.
  • If you’re a manager and you don’t plan to share your status updates with your team, uncheck “Update” for yourself – in this case, you won’t receive reminders.
  • The Recurrence setting configures how often participants receive email reminders to fill in their status updates. This feature is optional and can be turned off.
  • You can add, remove, and assign new team members at any time.

Step 2: The text of the status update should be added to the “Update” field of status feed.

how to add an update to status report

As soon as a new status update is added, participants with “View” rights can view it in real time when they log in to their accounts. They will also automatically receive emails with the full text of status updates.

Done!

Create your free account now