Podcast Blog

Communications Challenges in the Workplace [2024]

Communication challenges in the workplace can prevent employees from fully engaging, and feeling included in the greater organization. We've dissected the trickiest internal communication challenges that nearly every contemporary business will face. Ready to realize, analyze, and neutralize those barriers and communicate like a pro?


Working remotely from a laptop can intensify communications challenges in the workplace

Ah, the modern workplace...a digitally transformed utopia full of active employees conversing and collaborating to their hearts' content!

Ok, that might not be every organization's reality, but it's certainly true that when companies communicate effectively the wheels are greased for employee satisfaction, increased innovation, and probable profitability.

Shockingly, 60% of companies don’t have a long-term strategy for their internal communications, but implementing a fit-for-purpose plan couldn't be easier.

With just a few considerations and a rounded understanding of internal communication challenges, you can achieve the ideal digital workplace and reap the benefits.

Identifying barriers to effective communication

If you've got communication challenges in your workplace, chances are you already know!

Perfect communication happens when the message is received and understood in the way it was intended. It sounds so simple, but effective internal communication is one of the most difficult things to get right.

In a traditional office-based workplace you might encounter physical barriers (think the rise of the open plan office in the 1950s), but in today's modern workplace we're more likely to see barriers that are:

  • Language-based

  • Systematic

  • Attitudinal

  • Technological

When the sender and the receiver of the message are on the same page, the information comes across clearly. However, internal comms is a delicate concept, one that can break apart very easily if we don't consider the reality of the modern workplace.

Modern workplace communications

What's so different about the modern workplace? By now remote and hybrid work is a standard in many organizations. This has created it’s own set of communication challenges in the workplace.

The modern workforce is a collective of individuals that couldn't be more diverse. Employees are all over the world, speaking different languages in different time zones. While this makes contemporary companies richer and more varied, it also offers unique challenges when it comes to communicating.

Technology plays a huge role in modern workplace communication challenges, but it's only a part of the whole. To really arrive at an internal comms strategy that delivers, we need to get comfortable with how tech fits into the communication loop.

The communication loop

This concept has been around since the days of smoke signals, but it's still totally relevant today. It's easy to send your message out into the world and move on to other things, but you'd only be completing half of the loop. Big mistake!

The comms loop is divided into:

  • Sender: you, your management team

  • Message: your insightful, well-written piece of comms

  • Receiver: the receptive ears and eyes of your employees

  • Feedback: the all-important reciprocal final step!

And yes, you need to think about all four parts!

To make things easier, we've crunched down some of the key issues and barriers to effective internal comms into four broad categories, so that your loop will be an endless cycle of collaboration and fulfillment!

Ready for your first modern workplace communication challenge? Then let's get started!

Internal Communication Challenge #1: People

Large open plan office filled with workers at laptops

The challenges of effective communication in the workplace start with people. It doesn't matter if your company is five tech wizards in a south London warehouse, or 500 digital nomads dotted around the world, people are at the crux of the matter.

We're told that the modern workplace is more connected than ever, yet Trade Press Services found that 74% of employees feel they are missing out on company information and news.

Honestly, our first rule of thumb for anything comms-related is to put people first. Knowing that, we've outlined the three top barriers to internal communication to keep in mind when you're creating a strategy or best practices handbook: passive listening, attitudes, and management.

Passive listening

Is the biggest communication challenge in the workplace the fact that your employees don't listen? This might be more about you than them!

While it's tempting to blame poor listening skills on ineffective internal communications, the way you communicate can have a greater impact than you realize. Best communication practices from the boardroom apply directly to the modern workplace. If your employees aren't taking your message onboard, it might be time to ask yourself:

  • Is this message relevant to this audience?

  • Have I delivered the right amount of information?

  • Is this easy to understand?

  • Is this the right channel to deliver this message?

  • Have I given opportunities for clarification?

  • Am I encouraging feedback?

  • Have I clearly stated my expectations?

If you answered YES to all of these questions, then you're a world-class communicator. But if you're as fallible as the rest of us, then read on to learn how to overcome communication problems in your business.

Attitude to communications

Ego is a massive barrier to effective company communication, and it can rear its ugly head in just about any situation.

Unchecked egos can undermine teamwork, stymie employees' ability to feel heard or speak up, and feed the vicious cycle that creates further barriers to communication.

Employees emulate the attitude and environment that they are in, so senior employees need to set the tone of communication in the workplace. Using appropriate channels and prioritizing feedback can open up the floor for honest communication, and a more enjoyable employee experience for all!

Leaders and managers

According to Harvard Business Review, a whopping two-thirds of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees. What gives?

Yet at the same time, 84% of employees rely on their manager for company communication.

Managers and leaders require specific technical, conceptual, and planning skills, but if you don't make communication a leadership function then you're missing a key component!

Communications are often top-down. By challenging leaders to facilitate strong communication channels, you'll encourage conversation, innovation, and a ready exchange of ideas throughout your organization.

Internal Communication Challenge #2: Message

Graphic of speech bubble

Most companies invest a serious amount of time and effort into their external communications. A capable leader would never put out a press release without making sure the messaging was on point, but internal company communications often lack the same level of attention.

It's vital that your IC strategy is meticulously thought out ahead of time, and this applies to every single channel that you use. So, before you hit send on that management email, or go live on your company-wide virtual conference, you need to make sure the message you're putting out there is clear, concise, and meets your team on their terms, without being patronizing.

How? By checking that your messaging isn't susceptible to any of these internal comms pitfalls!

Poorly written communication

We hate to say it, but poorly written materials are rife in the modern workplace. Incorrect syntax, bad grammar, and out-of-context items are way too frequent in interoffice business publications and lead straight to confusion.

43% of on-site employees state that poor communication makes them lose trust in leadership.

You don't have to be a literary genius to pen a good internal comms piece, but you should always get an extra pair of eyes on your copy to assess it for clarity, message, and typos.

Lack of factual communication

There's enough fake news in this world, and your employees shouldn't need to do a deep dive, or even a cursory Google search, to fact-check your internal comms.

IBM reports that 72% of employees don’t fully understand their own company’s strategy. Recruiter says that 33% of employees said a lack of open, honest communication has the most negative impact on employee morale. 

Apart from slashing employee productivity, a lack of factual communication encourages mistrust in management and can damage employee engagement and satisfaction.

Consistency is key

Message inconsistency is a huge communication challenge in the workplace. Conflicting or incomplete messaging filters through organizations in an uncontrolled way, leading to assumptions, incorrect information, and total confusion.

Don't say one thing to the PR team and leave the social media gang looking for breadcrumbs. Speak your truth, create a single source for it, and make sure that the message you're putting out is reaching everyone on the grapevine equally.

Aim for inclusivity

One of the most exciting qualities of modern organizations can also be a serious communication barrier if not handled correctly. Employees come from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultural experiences, particularly in the virtual workplace, and your internal company messaging needs to reflect this.

Don't assume everyone is automatically on the same page! Collaborating with a diverse range of employees on your communications will ensure they're suitable for your audience, whether they're company-wide, individual, or department-specific.

Ditch the jargon

This deserves a heading of its own. It's all too easy to fall into the habit of communicating as if your entire audience is equally knowledgeable. Jargon-heavy internal communications lose potency right out of the gate, particularly with a geographically dispersed remote workforce without a suitable internal comms channel to request clarity.

Ensure a plain language policy for all communication in your workplace, and if you can't totally eliminate jargon from in-house messages, then it's imperative to have a succinct, factual, single source of truth that's readily available.

Internal Communication Challenge #3: Channels

Young woman sitting at desk with laptop open looking at her smartphone

If you've spent valuable time crafting the perfect message, there's nothing more irritating than a failure to deliver. To be consistent in your communication approach you'll need to decide which channels are suited to which parts of your internal communication strategy. Decide ahead of time and you'll enjoy numerous benefits.

Investing in the right channels will not only encourage your workforce to explore and discover your vision, but it will also aid in developing an environment that helps individuals feel a part of delivering it. 

So, what are the communication challenges in the workplace when it comes to channels?

Mixing work and personal communications

Creating a healthy work-life balance regularly ranks as the biggest challenge for remote workforce employees. Being overly personal in communications runs the risk of diminishing professionalism, and can lead to a decrease in morale and an increase in gossip. 

That said, setting aside space for personal communications can boost employee engagement and morale, but it's important to choose and delineate the right channel. Good examples include:

  • A virtual water cooler channel in your Slack workspace

  • A two-minute slot for a tidbit about what you're up to in your free time in your internal podcast

  • A monthly round-up newsletter of your team's work-from-home photos

Employees in different time zones

A dispersed remote workforce can seem like an insurmountable barrier to effective communication. If you've got freelancers in France, IT support in Iowa, and an HR manager hopping between Hungary and Hawaii, you probably spend a lot of time worrying if your communications are hitting home.

Everything becomes a whole lot easier when you embrace the wonders of synchronous and asynchronous communication.

  • Synchronous: real-time information exchange. This way of communicating is native to our traditional concepts of the office and work. Great for time-sensitive comms, and when you need answers now!

  • Asynchronous: information exchange doesn't happen in real time. Asynchronous comms are plentiful in the modern workplace, and established productivity boosters.

You'll need appropriate tech and channels to deliver both types of communications, but dividing your internal comms into these two categories is the first step to success.

Failure to disperse communications

Sending your important message out into your company microcosm can cause a serious failure to launch. Without a hierarchy or network of interlinking channels, the information presented won't be dispersed. Simply put, there'll be a breakdown in communication!

Choosing the right tech and the right channels will keep all of your employees in the loop and avoid wasted time, duplication of work, or general disruptions to your workflow.

Use the right technology and the right channels

In the past, internal communication strategies often identified technology as a hindrance to effective communication. Seems strange given how much we rely on technology today. But there is some truth to the fact that email and intranet updates are very faceless communication channels. Faceless communication can leave room for more misunderstandings.

To take on this communication challenge in the workplace, you’ll want to see what works best for your employees, and what creates more personal and genuine relationships.

Chat such as Slack or email updates may still be useful, but if your organization needs more connection, consider exploring podcasts, calls, and alternative solutions.  To find the best option, consider who is involved.

Who's talking?

Choosing software and channels for IC very much depends on the parties involved, and they all need to be considered separately to avoid common pitfalls and barriers. These include:

  • Communications between employees

  • Inter-department comms

  • Upper management to organization

For effective company comms, you need to pick your channels wisely. Whittle down your choices by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Is this message general or specific?

  • Does this information need to be referenceable?

  • Do I need a reply straight away?

  • Is this message confidential or sensitive?

  • Could this meeting be an email?

  • Is this one-way or two-way communication?

In asking these questions, you might discover that building an internal company podcast is the right move for your business—providing the perfect platform to align your general comms with your tech-savvy, remote team.

Internal Communication Challenge #4: Feedback

Two women coworkers engaging in friendly conversation

So, you've delivered a carefully crafted message to the right people in the right channel. Kudos to you! But we're not done just yet.

As we outlined earlier, communication has four main steps:

  • Encoding: writing your message

  • Transmission: sending said message down the right channel

  • Decoding: the recipient's reading of it

  • Feedback: the response!

Even one-way communication elicits a response, so forgetting this all-important final step is the last barrier to overcome for top-class communication.

Here are the key concepts around feedback to set you up for success.

Communication is a two-way street

Internal communications tend to be sender-centric, so it takes an active effort on the part of senior employees and management to encourage two-way communication.

Organizations that don't encourage junior-level employees to share ideas or voice concerns risk serious communication breakdowns. Give all employees the chance to be heard, and a channel to do so in, and you'll reap the benefits of increased productivity, cohesion, and collaboration, and the progress of your company as a unit.

Lack of follow-through

It's not enough to simply let employees know they can respond to communications. Following up plays a vital role in the process. When expectations are unclear, it can hinder progress and result in unfinished work, which can leave employees feeling dissatisfied.

Once information is dispersed throughout your organization, the relevant parties may need to take specific actions. You can close that pesky feedback loop by:

  • Scheduling a follow-up meeting

  • Distributing and delegating tasks

  • Giving your employees access to further sources of information

  • Setting up channels for further communications

Not listening to employees during periods of change

In periods of project development or intense change, upper management can become laser-focused on the goals and KPIs and forget to listen to their people. This is really about making time to listen to employees and learn from them, and being clear about how you'll act on their feedback and ideas.

Rather than dismissing needs or fears, make a point of fueling partnerships and encouraging collaboration. Doing so will allow you to make the most of a whole, beautifully round communication loop.

Keep yourself in the loop

By now, you'll be feeling ready to break down those classic communication challenges in the workplace.

Internal comms can be one of the first things to break down during periods of change or high pressure. If you find your message isn't landing right, you can simply refer back to the best practices for each of our four communication challenge areas:

  • People: make communication skills a leadership function, take ego out of the equation, and make passive listening a thing of the past.

  • Message: aim for factual, consistent, jargon-free, and well-written copy that is inclusive to your diverse modern workforce.

  • Channels: choose your channels wisely depending on the nature of the message, temporal constraints, and how you need it to be dispersed.

  • Feedback: close the communication loop by instigating feedback, following up on actions, and fuelling partnerships and collaboration.

If you want to really level up your IC, then it may be time to implement an internal communication plan that keeps everyone engaged and in the loop. 

Want to talk about internal comms and private podcasts? In the name of feedback, our virtual door is always open!

Identifying internal communications barriers is just the beginning

We're nerding out about all things IC because of how important it is to us as a company, and how integral it is to our podcast production service offering.

Make sure you check out our other articles on internal podcasting, the digital workplace, and the state of remote work. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn to stay updated on our latest articles from the world of podcasting, internal communications, and beyond!

Word On The Street

Join thousands of other subscribers and get a monthly newsletter on what matters in podcasting: how to create and grow a world-class show for your brand.

    We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time


    Harry Morton

    Hi, I'm Harry. I'm a father and the founder of Lower Street. I like mountain biking, making music, and travel.