The term “ROI” traditionally refers to the performance or outcome of a project, service or tool. How much bang did we get for our buck? Did our investment or spend pay back dividends? Based on the returns we saw, are we likely to repeat or extend the activity? What was the value?
When I think about measuring the value of workplace communication, or the tools that facilitate it, I like to look at it through a more specific lens. Rather than thinking about the broader return on investment, it can be helpful to consider the return on interaction. With a deluge of apps and software at our fingertips, how can we evaluate and identify those that are truly improving our daily interactions with our colleagues and teammates?
I’ve observed that the value of these tools is linked to the values that they enable or reinforce. The things that employees value at work are the things that keep them motivated, productive and loyal to an organization. We can measure the ROI of tools by how they enable what employees value most.
The research team at Slack recently conducted research on workplace values to find out more. We talked to over 4,000 knowledge workers around the world and learned that the top three personal values at work (excluding making money, which is something people naturally rank highly) are efficiency, autonomy and being part of a team. Respondents told us that “easy communication,” having “clear responsibilities” and “trust in colleagues” were the collaboration values that mattered most. Conversely, the greatest challenges they experience when collaborating are “unclear communication,” “uneven pace of co-workers” and “some people not being included in communications.” These common frustrations underline just how important teamwork and transparency are to employees.
So how can tools and technology make these work values manifest? In my experience, channel-based communication boosts their visibility and efficiency in a multitude of ways. Channels (dramatically more so than email) offer higher information density and improve signal-to-noise ratio. For every interaction made, each employee gets a greater “bang for their buck”; greater return on any given action. Compared to an email thread with a dozen colleagues CC’d, real-time conversations in a channel are vastly more efficient. For example, notifications (@name and @channel) are clear signals of priorities, ownership and action items, while emoji reactions let you instantly respond (e.g. “thumbs up” meaning “yes” or “looking eyes” meaning “I’m reviewing this”) without unnecessary back-and-forth. Channel-based communication empowers employees to tap into communal, searchable archives of information — breaking down silos and encouraging independent and transparent ways of working.
With regard to teamwork, technologies that bring people closer together, especially when the workforce is dispersed or partially remote, help improve employee happiness, work culture and overall productivity. It’s not a stretch to claim that better communication practices can foster better teamwork, but it is surprising how often it is deprioritized. Making use of video conferencing like Zoom, or using channels for daily “scrums”/standups, can go a long way in building a sense of purpose and belonging across an organization. To me, the “return on interaction” here, with the value of teamwork being promoted and enabled, shouldn’t be underestimated.
In building or rolling out technology for the workplace, it strikes me that the tools and services that are able to increase the value of communication, the “return on interaction” as it were, combined with the ability to nurture the values that employees care about the most, will be most successful in fostering a happier and more productive workforce. The value of workplace interactions and the values that knowledge workers hold in high esteem, go hand in hand.
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