Improving team communications is a sure way to improve operating efficiency and ultimately increase profits. If you appreciate that time really is money, then making the best use of work time is important. One of the simplest ways to make better use of time and increase operational efficiency is by adopting better internal communications tools. Streamlining communications eliminates a lot of wasted time and effort and allows employees to focus on the task at hand, rather than just discussing it. To improve collaboration and communications, you first need to inventory your internal communications tools, then assess which tools are working and which ones aren’t.
Avoiding Time Traps
Let’s consider some of the biggest time traps that bog down most organizations. According to research by Bain & Company, the average organization spends 15 percent of employees’ time in meetings, a number that has grown steadily over the last decade. One company reported that senior leadership meetings consumed 7,000 man hours per year, and companywide employees spent 300,000 hours of work time preparing for and attending meetings.
Then there is time wasted thanks to email. Adobe reports that the average white-collar worker spends 4.1 hours checking email each day, or 20.5 hours each week. The Radicati Group reports that the number of email users will grow from 2.6 billion worldwide in 2015 to 2.9 billion by the end of 2019, which is one third of the global population. By 2019 those users will send more than 246 billion email messages each day. However, email has become one of the least efficient forms of business communications—it requires too much delay with prolonged response, you can’t measure EQ in email messages, and email tends to promote reactive response rather than interactive exchange.
These are just a few of the most common breakdowns in corporate communications, which is why you need to assess your internal communications tools.
Common Internal Communications Tools
Some internal communications tools will fulfill different needs and are going to prove more effective than others. It’s best to start by taking an inventory of the communications tools your company favors and determining when to use specific tools to promote maximum efficiency. Here are the most common communications tools:
Meetings – We already noted that meetings can be a huge waste of time, but they also can be extremely valuable when you need to share ideas and build consensus. You need to take pre-emptive measures to make meetings productive and follow a few simple rules:
- Ask yourself “is this meeting really necessary?” Is there a better vehicle to use to inform or fulfill the goal of the meeting?
- If a meeting is needed, then have an agenda. Outline specific points that need to be covered and create a formal agenda so everyone stays focused.
- Set a time limit. Meetings should be short and to the point.
- Take notes. Be sure to have someone capture the discussion points and decisions reached in the meeting, including follow-up items.
- Come away with a clear idea about next steps. To be productive, a meeting should result in action items and a clear direction as to what happens next.
- Recap and share the outcome. To reinforce the value of the meetings, be sure to share the decisions with all parties and make sure to call out those responsible for next steps.
Email – Email is the preferred method of communications for most companies. Employees like email because it’s easy and impersonal, requiring no direct interaction. It’s also a great CYA tool, since you can send an email with information or a request and the thread provides written evidence that you have done your job. However, email can be woefully inefficient, especially for time-sensitive decisions or real-time communications. If you need an immediate answer to a question or if there will be a long exchange to reach a conclusion, email is the wrong tool to use.
Social media – Believe or not, 85 percent of corporations are now using social media as an internal communications tool. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are being harnessed for real-time, open conversations both for internal exchange and for interaction with customers. Depending on how you use it, social media can be valuable for real-time conversation or an ongoing dialogue.
Internal messaging – Platforms such as Yammer and Slack are increasingly being adopted for live chat. These platforms have advantages, such as the ability to create channels for specific purposes or projects, and they maintain a record of activity.
The telephone – In the age of internet communications, the telephone seems to have been largely abandoned, but for efficient communications and faster decision-making, there is nothing like a real-time phone conversation. If you need to discuss an issue or wish to resolve a problem quickly, there is nothing like the telephone. One telephone conversation can eliminate days of email back and forth, eliminate the need for a meeting, and lead to faster resolution to routine business issues.
Optimizing Your Team’s Internal Communications Tools
No matter what communications tools your company uses, you want to establish guidelines for their use wherever practical. Try to align the tools with the nature of collaboration in order to optimize efficiency. In some cases, you can combine communications tools. Unified communications systems provide the ability to use telephony, presence, chat, video conferencing, and more, all from the same handset. Be sure that all employees are trained in how to use all the internal communications tools.
To minimize training and optimize internal communications, you also can try to standardize on fewer tools.
Smartphones, for example, are familiar to users and support all the internal communications tools you are likely to need—video conferencing, email, messaging, social media, and telecommunications. And by adding tools such as Spoke, which integrates employees’ smartphones into a single business phone system, your employees only have to carry one piece of hardware to meet all their internal communications needs.
To optimize internal communications tools, you need to not only choose the right tools for the task, but also be sure that employees are comfortable using the tool. If your staff doesn’t like the tool they won’t use it, no matter how efficient it is. That’s why more organizations are adopting smartphones as a common communications tool and why apps such as Spoke are promoting greater worker productivity.