Like a lot of small businesses we started out small. And by small, I mean really small. My business partner and I both worked full-time for other companies and worked on our new venture in our spare time.
Eventually we both went full-time and over time we hired people and moved into an office.
When you only have a couple of staff communication internally isn’t really an issue. Everyone is in the same office space. If the company’s doing anything everyone is going to know about it.
Employee feedback isn’t an issue, communications work fine.
Fast forward 12 years and things are a bit different.
We now have around 40 staff and contractors working for us from several locations and countries. Even within our main office the staff are spread physically across two floors.
And as the staff numbers have grown the quality of internal communication has degraded.
I’ve been aware of this issue for some time, but we’ve been busy working on a lot of different things so it kind of got pushed to one side. But now we’ve decided to focus some energy and effort into fixing this. It’s a silly problem to have!
Internally staff work a lot from their email, depending on their team, but they also work a lot with our helpdesk software. For day to day communication we all use jabber. Quite a few of our staff are active on Twitter, but not all of them are. Facebook is used by a lot of them, but several have decided to stop using it or only use it sporadically.
So what is the best way to handle internal comms? I asked around …
From the feedback I got from a variety of people it seems that we aren’t alone. And how companies have tried to address the issues do vary quite a bit.
Some have opted for a weekly or monthly internal email newsletter. Others use Slack, Yammer or similar tools. A couple of companies use video blogs, while others send a PDF newsletter around.
A more “old school” approach being used by some companies is to print stuff out and post in places employees are likely to see it, including the bathrooms!
Emails seem to provoke mixed reactions, with some people saying that they love them, while others say nobody ever reads them.
Internally one of our staff suggested using SMS. Since everyone has a mobile phone this is a pretty good idea, though with only 160 characters you’re a bit limited!
So what are we going to do?
At the moment I’m not 100% sure, but I suspect we’re going to adopt a hybrid approach and combine a few different things. Maybe some things will work well and some won’t, but we need to try and see what happens.
We’re already using our company blogs to communicate with our clients, partners and prospects. So a lot of the information is already being shared. Of course we don’t put out on a public facing blog the kind of things that are very much “internal”. If we’re organising an event for staff or need to announce training or various other internal things we’re currently doing it via email. But we all get way too much email already!
I suspect this will be something we experiment with over the coming months.
Wish us luck!
This is something I struggled with in the company I’m working with. We have employees spread around the world who work from home quite a lot. Email was the traditional form of communication but I’ve been trying various ways of reducing the volume of Email that’s received so that when something lands in a mailbox it’s actioned faster than an IM or text message. I’ve used two approaches. Firstly, I’ve installed an internal Hipchat server and integrated it with our Active Directory domain controller to enable single sign on. With the native Hipchat clients for Mac, Windows and popular mobile platforms such as Android and IOS, people have almost constant access to quick messages that are sent to teams or privately to indeviduals. Hipchat also supports voice and video calling to facilitate team meetings or conversations that are not suitable for text chat. Hipchat is only one part though. For important company news I use the dashboard. It’s a simple HTML site using frames. The top frame cycles through our monitoring applications and the bottom frame displays a message if one is needed. People usually have this dashboard open on a screen near them as well so it’s a useful way of notifying of important news. I had also thought about notifying of policy changes etc using a log in message that would be presented when they start their machines in the morning but I decided this was overkill. This has worked well for almost a year now. I’ve taken people out of Outlook for most of their day, I’ve de-cluttered inboxes and notifications and when an Email is received a mind set is slowly developing that it should be prioritised over anything else because it’s most likely from a customer.
Thanks for your comment.
Do all your staff login to this “dashboard” you mentioned?
James Gannon says
Ok I know you were not particularly looking for tool suggestions but when working with distributed and remote teams one of the best thing I have used pretty much since it came out is Glip. http://www.glip.com
It combines ad-hoc project management, calendaring and chat into a simple program. Now its not something your going to run a year long development project on but it provides a great platform for capturing ideas, conversations and general day to day task management for teams. Best of all its basically free unless you want to spend hours using the video chat function. Has some pretty cool integrations into the usual cloud services etc.
I’d check it out, wont solve every problem but goes a long way to replacing email conversations in my experience.
James – thanks. I’ll add it to our list of things to look at 🙂
I suspect we’ll end up doing a combination of things
It’s set up as the home page on every machine. I have created a few versions. For our marketing and graphics people for example I have one frame with a Google search function, common links etc. and the bottom frame for news. Making the page relevant for them as well so as they have a reason to regularly use it without it becoming an inconvenience. However, most news is sent over HipChat. The news area on the dashboard is mainly to warn people of critical dates or releases for that week. It’s the kind of news they actually need. Alerts of outages and other critical news is sent using team messages in HipChat. That way, even if someone is out of the office they’ll get a push notification to their phone. I’m not pushing HipChat. I’m mainly saying that a good IM system that integrates well, isn’t a bother and is cross platform was the perfect fit for my problem.
The “dashboard” idea is interesting. I might need to raise this with our engineering team. Which OS are you all using? We’ve got a mixed environment with Windows, Linux and OSX
Thanks for the comments – they’re helpful
Sorry for the delay in responding. A combination of Windows and OSX. Also mobile devices running Windows Mobile, Android and IOS. I’ve intentionally kept the dashboard simple. The authentication for the various applications at the top of the dashboard is handled by those applications. The news area is a simple asp.net site that reads a spreadsheet hosted on one of the file shares. The objective is that I don’t have to do anything with it. A junior person gets the important customer dates either once a month or once a quarter depending on the customer. She then adds this into the spreadsheet and that’s it.