Opinion

What is horizontal communication?

An introduction

Connor Ward

Connor Ward

Horizontal communication. It sounds like it’s straight from The Big Book of Corporate Jargon, doesn’t it?

Don’t let that frighten you. Jargon and buzzword aside, it’s an essential function of a successful workplace. In fact, you probably do it all the time. Things like talking to the person next to you or emailing your team – that’s horizontal communication.

What is horizontal communication?

Horizontal communication (sometimes called ‘lateral communication’) is the communication that occurs between people at the same level in an organisation. When businesses are small, and you’re all sat in the same room, this communication is essentially the only form of communication. But, as businesses grow and teams spread out – horizontal communication isn’t done in person anymore, it’s done over email or phone.

As an example, let’s take an account manager and a sales executive. The sales executive wants to hand off over a new customer to their account manager. The problem is, they’re based in different offices. They need a way to exchange this information – they need to communicate horizontally – and usually use email or phone to do this.

Why we need to talk about horizontal communication

The workday involves a lot of communication: sending emails, issuing instructions, asking for help. These all necessary parts of doing our jobs, but they take up a lot of our day. Take emails, they’re really distracting – eating up a whopping 28% of our time. We all know it’s a time sink but we just can’t stop emailin’ each other.

Then there’s the growing number of us who’ve begun to realise: “hang on, these open offices are really noisy.” It’s why remote work is so popular. But then again – remote workers may escape the officer chatter, but they’ll never escape those pesky emails (and don’t even get me started on Slack).

The problem is, there’s often too much horizontal communication – and most businesses do nothing about it. No one tells you how to manage your inbox: you’re just plonked down and expected to do it.

But, here at Twine, we’ve tried to do something about that.

Our company rules for horizontal communication

Email

Most of the team at Twine work remotely so, instead of tapping the person next to us on the shoulder, we have to message each other electronically. But, we don’t like the idea of people wasting too much time in their email inboxes – so we implemented these guidelines:

  • Check your inbox at 10AM or 4PM – no other times
  • Don’t bother with formalities when it’s internal
  • Don’t send an all@ or office@ unless you have an urgent message

Chat apps

Messengers like Slack promised they would kill email. They had a good crack at it but, in many ways, replaced them with something just as distracting. In fact, Slack even has an article in their help centre on reducing noise. Here’s what they suggest when things get out of hand:

  • Leave noisy channels
  • Mute noisy channels
  • Archive noisy channels

Those are just some simple steps you can take. But what if you wanted to take things even further?

Flat organization – the extreme end of horizontal communication

Taken to the extreme, a company that operates using solely horizontal communication is known as a ‘flat’ organisation.

An example of this would be the software company called Basecamp – everything about them is horizontal. They even look for candidates who have horizontal ambition – “employees who love what they do are encouraged to dig deeper, expand their knowledge, and become better at it”. This is opposed to vertical ambition, the ambition to move up the hierarchy. And it works for them: their average tenure is around 5 years – that’s huge!

But then again, it’s easier for them: they only have 50 employees.

What if you’ve got 100? 1000?

Twine – the communication hub you’ve been looking for

As companies grow, they spread out. With every new office, departments become more and more decentralised. Whereas once you were all sat in the same room, now the only way for you to communicate horizontally is through email, chat or phone. And, as we know, these things can become a real nuisance.

That’s why we built Twine: an app that brings people together into a single communication hub. Take Rebecca Meahew here:

As you can see on her Twine profile, she’s a part of several groups: the Operations department, the London office as well as several internal finance teams. Using these three ’segments’, we can ensure that Rebecca has a space to communicate with people at the same level.

For example, when Rebecca needs to share a new policy document with the leadership team, all she needs is to go to Knowledge, upload her content and assign it as a mandatory read for the SLT group.

Final thoughts

The goal of this article was to introduce you to the idea of horizontal communication – the unsung foundation of work. You’ll have seen above that’s there one tool out there that’ll help you master this: Twine. It’s an application that can be used by any company, no matter their size or industry, to master their internal comms.

Try it for yourself, just head to signup.twineapp.com and set up your trial account.