Graduating seniors—congrats! This is an exciting time. The transition from college to “the real world” often ushers in many firsts—including your first full-time job. It also brings some lasts: your last final exams, research reports, and essays. While your days of academic writing may be behind you, I can assure you that the act of communicating your ideas is not.
Professionals spend approximately half their time at work writing, according to new research from Grammarly and The Harris Poll. And communicating in the workplace is hard—the same study found that 86% of workers believe communication is one of the most underrated professional skills.
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The circumstances of the last several years have caused a massive shift in the way we work, and yours is one of the first graduating classes to enter the professional world amid this global renegotiation. Like you, the most seasoned professionals are making adjustments to more asynchronous work, less face-to-face time, and new ways of collaborating with colleagues. In a way, this is good news—your future colleagues are recalibrating their relationship with professional communication at the same time you are creating yours.
The challenges of workplace communications
The impact of professional communications may be less tangible than grades, but that doesn’t mean they’re low-risk. Your day-to-day communication in the workplace directly impacts outcomes—whether it’s getting buy-in for an initiative, winning over a new client, or protecting your company’s reputation.
Skillful communication can also safeguard your time and energy from the negative consequences of poor communication. Data shows us that these side effects include increased stress and wasted time. Let’s put a finer point on that: business leaders estimate their employees lose nearly eight hours each week to ineffective communication. This is approximately one full day of a five-day workweek! As you begin your career, consider the significant impact such a time drain can have on your productivity and morale—and how prioritizing communication skills can help you overcome these undesirable outcomes.
These concerns aren’t limited to those new to the workforce. The majority of professionals are worried that hybrid and remote working models will hinder their ability to communicate well in the future, and nearly two-thirds wish their company had better tools to support people in communicating effectively.
And that’s not because there aren’t already enough tools in the workplace! The needs of a hybrid world have led to a surge in contexts where we communicate—Slack, email, video meetings, in-person meetings, workflow platforms, and more. Today’s workers face a readjustment of where and when they share updates and collaborate with colleagues. Here are some tips on juggling all these options:
- Be considerate of others’ preferences and communication styles. Do they like to have document drafts in their email inbox? Are they okay with receiving everything in Slack? Or do they want to walk through materials for review on your weekly chats? When in doubt—ask!
- Be clear about your own needs. New hires may feel obligated to work around the styles of others. While it’s always wise to note how your boss and teammates operate, setting your own guidelines and boundaries will prepare you to deliver your best work.
- Be mindful of context. Remember you may need to alter your writing style throughout the day to best suit the platform. For example, emojis and more lax punctuation might be acceptable on Slack but not via email.
The shift from academic to professional writing
Beyond constant context shifting, academic writing is, by nature, dramatically different from business writing—from conventions around length, sentence complexity, tone, and more.
New professionals must also contend with the change from writing wordy essays to concise communication when entering the workforce. Even those who once excelled in writing at school may miss the mark when writing for the workplace if they don’t adapt to a “less is more” mindset. Instead of writing more to hit word counts or page lengths, you now need to get your point across as quickly as possible. Keep this in mind when drafting long emails and documents. If lengthy memos are unavoidable, consider summarizing the key takeaways with a TL;DR section.
Another change from academic writing: your audience is no longer limited to your peers and professors. With your new job come countless new connections. You may have to communicate with your boss and your team, clients and vendors, outside partners and prospects—just to name a few. In the same way you must adapt your writing style based on where you write, you’ll want to tailor each communication to the recipient. It’s essential to take a bespoke approach to ensure your message is received as intended.
…and how to ease the transition
By understanding the impact of workplace communication before starting your career, you will be better prepared to navigate this progression to professional life. So now that you’re aware of the challenges, here’s what you can do to set yourself up for success:
- Develop your soft skills. In a hybrid or remote work environment especially, soft skills like empathy, teamwork, and confidence are not just critical to your success but also to your team’s success. And strong communicators tap into all of these skills (and more!) to work efficiently and effectively.
- Invest in the right tech and professional development tools. Thankfully, you no longer have to spend hundreds of dollars each semester on books—but that doesn’t mean the learning is over. Digital communication assistants, courses on public speaking, or books on leadership, collaboration, flexibility, and other soft skills are all options.
When in doubt, lean on the basics
Despite the adjustments from academic to professional communication, many tenets of good writing stand:
- Know what you aim to accomplish with your message, and keep that goal at the forefront.
- Consider your audience and tailor the message accordingly. Assignments for your creative writing professor probably differed from the research papers you turned in. Similarly, adapt your workplace comms based on your mission, recipient, and relationship.
- Self-edit! Proofread for spelling and grammar errors, cut unnecessary words and clauses, use active voice whenever possible, and don’t hedge—be confident in what you know and recommend.
By giving your workplace communication as much thought and attention as your final papers, you’ll be well on your way to building the confidence, connections, and capabilities you need for another transition—your next dream job.