Improve communication in the workplace to grow your business

Woman pointing to a large screen and speaking to a group of people with laptops

It’s no secret that poor communication is detrimental to your organization, but just how detrimental it can be, may come as a surprise. According to “The Poor Cost of Communications,” a study referenced by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), “a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.” And although your small business is just a fraction of the size of the companies included in the survey, you’re not immune to the impact of insufficient communications.

In fact, because those on your staff are, in all likelihood, taking on more varied roles and are pulled in more directions than those at larger organizations, communicating clearly – and in a way that suits your team best – may be even more critical for small businesses. Fortunately, there is a slew of technology and information available to help you open (and maintain) clear lines of communication with those you rely on most.

Use Technology – But Not ALL the Technology

Make no mistake, technology is a marvelous thing, but it should be chosen, and used, wisely. Instead of having a separate employee intranet, a social intranet, a project management workspace, instant messaging, private chat rooms, email, a video channel, etc. for your internal communication, choose a solution that gives you everything you need in one convenient place. This way, you risk less confusion and improve the odds that your staff will actually use the tools available to them. But which tools are really necessary?

  • Email: These days, email is a given. There's simply no better way to reach people inside, and outside of your organization. Just be sure to choose a cloud-based email client. This way, you not only have access to your messages from any device, but your messages are backed up in the cloud, and your security will always be up to date.
  • Collaborative Workspace: With the power to connect via instant messaging and video conferencing, plus the ability to share and work together on files in real time, a secure and effective workspace app can give your staff the means to collaborate on projects, talk through issues, share documents, and build trust and working relationships that will help you develop the culture you need to succeed. And because they can do this all via an app on their desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, it means that you can hire the best of the best – whether they live nearby or half a world away.
  • Workflow & Task Management Solutions: Staying organized is critical to any organization, but when you're a small business with a limited staff, priorities can shift quickly, cause confusion, and bring your productivity to a grinding halt. However, with workflow and task management software, you can develop project plans that ensure that everyone on your team understands what their priorities are, which tasks need to be completed (and when), and even deliver status updates and allow those on the same team share files.

Ask Your Staff What They Want/Need

Although workplace cultures tend to develop organically, creating a space that's truly inclusive, collaborative, happy and productive does take some finessing. After all, a recent Gallup poll revealed that "70% of U.S. employees are not engaged at work," and that lack of engagement can create an apathetic, unproductive, or even negative workplace.

Unfortunately, when asked directly, many people won't provide thoughtful, honest answers – either because they're concerned about a lack of anonymity or because they simply need time to consider the subject. So, give people the space they need to provide you with real, honest answers by using an app that allows you to connect with your staff, and gives your staff the opportunity to respond on their schedule. When choosing your app, look for one that allows you to seamlessly schedule employee events, request information from small groups or large teams, and even develop surveys, send them to anyone, and collect responses (anonymous or otherwise) in real time. By allowing you to communicate with your team, find out how your employees feel about your company, and tell you what they need, an app like this can help you create a culture where everyone feels welcome, and fulfilled.

How to Communicate Effectively

Effective communication skills are taught in colleges and executive seminars, but they're likely long forgotten by the time you've either graduated or headed back to the office and dived into "real world" work. And although there are many tips for how to improve communication, the best ones are often the simplest, such as:

  • Keep your messages clear, use plain language, and stay away from jargon. Although your teams may be expected to know it, jargon can still impede understanding. In fact, using jargon is considered such bad form that many colleges are starting to teach their business students how speak without it, and the U.S. government started PlainLanguage.gov – a website aimed at helping government employees create documents that make it "easier for the public to read, understand, and use government communications."
  • Meet your team where they're at. If your own data shows that your staff interacts the most with a traditional written or video messages sent via email, do that. If a survey reveals they prefer in-person or live streaming meetings for big announcements, use them. After all, "internal communication is reported as a key success factor for nearly 79% of organizations," according to an article on LinkedIn – so staying in touch with your team and delivering information in a way that ensures they'll receive it is critical. In addition, it's also a time saver.
  • For big announcements, important company news or other significant messages (like changes to benefits), follow a communication plan template, just as you would for external announcements. This will help ensure that your message (whether it's written or spoken) is clear and includes all of the pertinent information. In addition, once your message is complete, have someone you trust provide editorial oversight.
  • Augment words with visuals. According to the Social Science Research Network, "65 percent of us are visual learners," and a survey from 3M revealed that "we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text," so whenever you can provide your team with a picture, chart, graph, video, infographic, or other visual example of what you need, want or hope to achieve, it will improve comprehension.

There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all approach for how to improve communication and engagement among your staff, but by trying new technology and a new approach to business communication, you can avoid misunderstandings, mitigate rumors, and save time – and even improve how your team works, how your staff feels about your organization, and grow your bottom line. After all, an Aon Hewitt report revealed that "for every 1% increase in employee engagement, you can expect to see an additional 0.6% growth in sales for an organization," so any steps you can take to engage your employees will be well worth the effort.

About the author

The Microsoft 365 team is focused on sharing resources to help you start, run, and grow your business.

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