4 golden rules to keep good communication at the heart of your business
Three start-ups explain their strategies for maintaining effective communication while juggling multiple locations and remote staff
The importance of effective communication cannot be overstated in any business. It is vital that employees at all levels of an organisation understand the short and long term goals and needs of the company – as well as maintaining clear lines of communication to ensure tasks and projects are completed efficiently.
But how can you ensure the correct information is reaching the right people? And even more challenging, how do you maintain constant communication when your team may not be working from the same building or even in the same time zone.
Cordelia Meacher, founder of Startups 100 PR firm FieldHouse Associates, started with a team all working remotely from their individual homes. Ben Grove, managing director of online estate agents EstatesDirect.com, works with a team of remote local property experts and head of communications at bio-bean, Daniel Crockett, manages a team across two core locations.
While nothing beats face-to-face communication, with the shift towards remote working in recent years it’s not always possible as the start-ups above demonstrate.
Here, they share their golden rules for good workplace communication while managing disbanded teams.
1. Don’t forget you’re a team
It’s easy to become insular Meacher warns, when all you do is “sit at home, or in a café, and just focus on your laptop and nothing else around you.” This is fine if you’re “a one man band,” however if you’re growing a business with “real life people” it’s absolutely vital to keep in touch so you can discuss: “priorities, strategy and execution.”
It’s vital that everyone is working towards the same goals or your business won’t achieve anything. By communicating as a team, you can adequately distribute the essential tasks, make sure no one is overlapping and break down bigger targets into more manageable chunks. “The key word is team!” she summarises.
Grove says, “keeping in touch is much easier to do with the advantages of remote access to Skype and conference calls”. He adds that it’s very important to be “willing to encourage ideas in staff and listen. We need to learn form employees at the coal face to evolve the business and stay ahead of competitors”.
2. Arrange face-to-face time
If you work in the same city then a face-to-face meet up every so often shouldn’t be too much of an upheaval for anyone, and can be hugely beneficial in developing productive working relationships – allowing people to meet the person behind the name or thumbnail sized photo on a computer screen.
Meacher says, “facetime is important, arrange time to be together – it doesn’t have to be at an office.” At FieldHouse Associates they regularly “gather at a Starbucks or at a restaurant for some lunch.”
It’s also good to have more formal meetings, which Meacher calls “Team Time” to allow people to raise issues and discuss concerns or interests in person. She says that in all honestly “we are all very email heavy. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.” Sometimes it’s important to be able to pick up on verbal or facial clues when dealing with more serious matters. Subtext is important, and it can be difficult to express the finer points of an opinion via text on a screen.
In fact bio-bean “specifically don’t use a chat tool”, opting instead for a “hands on approach of internal meetings and face to face discussions” – even if that has to be via video conference call.
3. Make the most of technology and the cloud
Still, the vast majority of your communication is going to be done online, or by video or phone call.
Meacher and her workforce take full advantage of all the methods of communication that modern software and technology provides. “We used Google Hangouts all the time, plus we still have a FieldHouse Associates WhatsApp group that we use for both banter and also quick logistics.”
Unified communications are an excellent way to keep a remote workforce connected. Google Hangouts allows multiple users to engage in video chat, and cloud based systems such as Ring Central offer a full range of integrated services including up to 50 person video conferencing. Employees can use any of their own internet enabled devices.
Bio-bean “use Todoist and Google apps for document collaboration”, both of which allow multiple users and devices to share tasks and collaborate from anywhere.
Grove and his colleagues designed and built their own Business Operation Support System (BOSS) as in-house Client Relationship Management software, allowing them to “measure up, take photos, sketch the floor plan, dictate in to the device and build the brochure in front of the client in real-time.”
4. Make it easy and accessible
Meacher says “from very early on we always had a team@ email alias where everyone is copied in, just to make life easier.” Whatever systems you put in place to communicate, make sure you establish them as soon as possible, as the early stages of setting up a business can be a confusing time.
As you grow this will become even more vital but even more difficult to implement, Meacher explains: “As we’ve grown we’ve had to become a little more structured, but I think that’s just all part of natural business expansion, and early teething pains.”
She admits that “When you’re not all together all the time it makes it harder to keep all the channels open – because we’re all busy and we forget.” But modern technology has enabled a plethora of communication methods across multiple platforms and mediums – so as long as you are aware of your options and how to optimise them, you can have an informed and productive remote workforce.
“If you make it hard to communicate, then no one will,” Meacher concludes.
EstatesDirect actually went to the trouble of developing its own app, EstatePad. Grove explains: “With the two parties rarely in the same office as each other […] we needed a system which would meet our specific requirements […] able to cut time and the excess middle-men out of the process to make selling a property as smooth as possible.”
At bio-bean, the most important aspects of new communication software are whether it has “great user interface, ease of onboarding new employees… and good integration with existing software.”
RingCentral offers a complete business communications solution based in the cloud.