You know the feeling. You have a client coming in and you promised you'd have their information ready for them. You get to work and the folder isn't on your desk. You ask around the office to see if anyone knows where it is but to no avail. Harry says he never received the file from Debbie so he didn't get his portion finished. Debbie can't be found anywhere. Five minutes before the client is to arrive, you glance at the personnel calendar and discover that Debbie has been on vacation for the past three days. Go figure. Before you can find out who would have taken over her duties, you are informed that the client is waiting outside. By the time he leaves, you are both frustrated and he’s considering going with another company.
All of this could have been avoided if your company practiced better communication. We know it's difficult. Days are filled to the brim, half of the employees work from home, or even across the world. Sometimes if you’re a small business like us, three people will be on vacation but that’s half the office! So we get it. Even so, a common assumption in the workplace is that everyone knows and understands what they’re supposed to do. As a manager or business owner, babysitting isn't part of your job description, right? The problem with this thinking is that your business is a machine and each part has to know what the other is doing in order to run efficiently. Let's take a look at some ways you can start improving communication in your small business today.
Establish An Intranet
There are some great programs available that are based on popular social media platforms. By having a form of intranet, you give everyone (no matter where they perform their job) access to things like files, news, and forums. You could make it mandatory for everyone to check in once a day to keep up with important updates. You can also take it one step further by keeping schedules online and accessible to everyone. This allows everyone to know when their co-workers are available. Contact info is another thing that could be made readily accessible. Using a project management system is also a great resource that can provide project status to everyone in the company.
Provide Regular Feedback
Feedback can work in various ways. In an environment that feels safe, employees can give feedback to each other, management can (and definitely should) give regular feedback to employees, and employees should feel comfortable giving feedback to management. This can be worked out by making the feedback anonymous if preferred. Regular surveys are an excellent medium for this. This allows everyone to be aware of things that aren't working and gives encouragement to those who are doing exceptional work.
Touch Base Weekly
This is different than a staff meeting to cover anything and everything. Make it a point that everyone working on a project get together either Friday afternoon or Monday morning. This gives each person a chance to update everyone on what has been done on a project and lets everyone know what the goals are for the coming week. This gets everyone on the same page, keeps the project on track, and brings forward any issues to prevent large problems down the road.
Be an Active Listener
During conversations, whether one-on-one or in a meeting, practice active listening. Instead of thinking ahead about what you want to say, take the time to look at the speaker and absorb what they are saying. Take notes when appropriate. Repeat things back to the speaker in your own words to make sure you truly understand.
One of the more positive points of a small business is that employees are often closer than employees of a much larger business. This encourages more workplace bonding between employees and management. Be the kind of manager that is responsive to employee needs. Have an open-door policy where employees feel comfortable coming to you with their thoughts and questions. Keep in mind that sometimes the most unlikely person may have an idea that creates a breakthrough in a current problem. Let employees know they are heard and that will carry over to how they respond to each other.
Keep Important Information Readily Available
Every new employee should be given a copy of the employee handbook, if one is available. Your small business may not have an extensive handbook but all companies have guidelines on how things are expected to be done. They should include standards such as design or brand protocol and information on how a project should proceed. Anything that is necessary for the company's vision should be made clear. Paper copies can be easily lost or misplaced. The intranet mentioned earlier is a great place to keep these files so necessary information is readily available to all employees. This will help keep your projects on track and keep productivity up.
Technology gives us access to more people than ever before. Networking and recruiting is no longer limited to physical proximity but this also means you have employees that may work remotely. Connecting for meetings can be difficult if you don't utilize modern technology such as Skype or GoToMeeting. According to PRNewswire, “Zoom, Skype for Business, and Google Hangouts are the most used amongst growing companies." These tools allow a small business to operate on the same scale as a large one. Giving a face to coworkers working in distant places helps create a connection.
Don't Neglect Old-School Methods
A small business also has room for old-school communication techniques such as e-mail and even written letters. E-mails allow you to share highlights of a meeting or get written verification of something you want to make sure the person knows. This way, you have verification that the information was sent. Personal letters are often appropriate for announcing things like promotions or even terminations. In spite of the new technology that saves time in a small business, there will always be room for tried-and-true communication methods.
Create Opportunity for Personal Connection
One thing that gets neglected the most when a small business starts to grow is personalization. Your employees will work harder and be more productive if they are emotionally invested in the business. This can be done by creating an environment where everyone feels seen and valued. In order for this to happen, it helps to see the person sitting across the room not as "the IT guy" but instead as Merle-- father, husband, and an avid baseball fan. Schedule holiday parties, a monthly brunch, or even an impromptu plan for everyone to meet after work for happy hour. If time and finances allow, arrange a weekend team-building retreat or have someone come in for a few hours of team building exercises. Help your employees see each other, and you, as human first, and better communication is bound to follow.
Running a small business doesn't have to be filled with confusion and misunderstandings. You have the best of the best on your team, so provide tools that allow them to do their best work. By opening the door to effective communication, and keeping it open, you help your employees and your business become greater than they can be alone. And it is this greatness you can then pass onto your clients.