Informal communication is a casual and unofficial form of communication where information is shared spontaneously without conforming to official rules, processes, and chain of command.
In the work environment, informal communication is casual and occurs outside the usual business hierarchy or established communication structure.
What is informal communication?
In the business context, informal communication can also be described as a “grapevine” as the conversation moves through the informal communication network, blending social relationships across different departments.
As an effective communication channel, informal communication allows an easy flow of information, usually rising out of social situations.
There are different types of informal communication, depending on the situation. The topic of conversation can be diverse, from a discussion on the weather or the sudden hike in stock prices to a casual discussion on company policy changes.
Informal communication is achieved through both synchronous and asynchronous methods. For example;
- Conversations — either in the office, common areas or even in the parking lot
- Phone calls — quick phone calls that occur outside of scheduled calls with a pre-organized agenda
- Instant message — on various instant messaging apps such as Whatsapp
- Project boards — collaborative project boards allow for comments, chats, and calls
Formal vs. informal communication in business
Informal communication is the opposite of formal communication.
Formal communication follows official communication channels and is dictated by the company’s hierarchical structure. Formal methods of communication include business letters, reports, and orders. Methods of sharing information are dictated by structure and communication rules.
In contrast, informal communication doesn’t follow any rules or predetermined policy. Informal communication is more casual, and the flow of information is unstructured.
What are the different types of informal communication?
Four main types of informal communication demonstrate how informal business communication manifests.
- Single strand chain
Communication begins with a single person who passes information to another individual. News continues to travel linearly, from one person to another, until reaching the final individual.
A single employee seeks information and passes it on to others. From here, a group conversation occurs where several individuals offer input informally, regardless of their hierarchical position or department.
Following the law of probability, a probability chain is a random form of communication where each individual spontaneously shares the same message with others. The source of information usually differs for each person.
A single person passes information to a group of people. In turn, these enlightened individuals convey the message to other groups of people.
Informal communication pros and cons
Informal communication serves a valuable role in the workplace, but it needs to be properly managed by human resources management.
Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of informal communication allows businesses to optimize the benefits.
Advantages of informal communication flow
Informal communication creates a friendly and casual atmosphere, balancing the distant mood of formal communication.
Informal communication helps to bridge the gap between different departments and levels of authority. When employees feel connected with other employees, it increases a sense of belonging and boosts employee morale. In turn, productivity increases.
By creating a welcoming environment and building relationships, employees feel more comfortable offering quality feedback to improve working relationships and business processes.
Disadvantages of informal communication
On the flip side, informal communication can lead to misinformation as there is no official record of information being passed. In this way, informal communication can be unreliable and lead to misunderstandings.
As informal communication is spontaneous, it can limit productivity if not managed properly. In addition, the free flow of information can lead to certain people being left out, especially in the instance of remote work.
Achieving optimal informal communication
Balancing formal and informal communication in the workplace contributes to success, inclusivity, and productivity.
Consider the following tips to manage formal and informal communication:
- Create a formal communication policy
- Revert to formal communication channels for important matters
- Encourage employees to manage their notifications on chat applications to prevent disruptions
- Encourage accountability to avoid spreading rumors or inaccurate information
- Host virtual team-building events and icebreakers to encourage inclusivity with remote teams
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