There are many challenges for small businesses, and one that is often overlooked is internal communication between employees and managers. However, positive internal communication can create a stronger sales force and happier employees. Check out six ways small businesses can improve communication among employees.
1. Meet in person – There are few employees who will willingly ask for more meetings. Although constant meetings can be a hindrance, it’s a good idea to meet as a group or one-on-one with your employees to encourage the most efficient communication for the company. Teleconferencing and email meetings are missing one big thing: body language. In-person meetings let you and your employees make eye contact and see body language, which can help you communicate more effectively. Meetings should have an agenda, even if it’s informal. Create a list of the topics you’d like to discuss and share them ahead of time. Set the stage for your in-person meeting by sharing a brief overview of your agenda, and keep off-topic discussion to a minimum. Time is valuable, and keeping an in-person meeting brief and productive can help employees be less distracted, feel more at ease and facilitate more open communication within your company.
2. Make a Group effort – It’s human nature to give the benefit of the doubt to those who you genuinely like, so building personal relationships with coworkers or employees is almost as important as building professional ones. Schedule team lunches, team building exercises or after-hours events to help employees connect with managers and with one another on a personal level. It’s also important to encourage a group of employees to work like a group. Ask for group feedback on projects to make group members feel like they are being heard and that their feedback is welcomed.
3. Use open body language – Body language says almost as much as language, and can be a motivator or a deterrent for positive, effective communication. Managers should be aware of their body language when speaking with individuals and groups. Make eye contact with employees, and refrain from crossing your arms. Smile and lean forward while you’re talking, which shows a higher level of comfort. Watch the body language during meetings or while employees are working; employees who are standing with arms crossed or avoiding eye contact may be unhappy or displeased with the communication being put forth, and seeing these signs can help turn it around quickly.
4. Learn how employees communicate – Each employee is unique and wants to communicate, and be communicated with, in different ways. Some prefer email, while others prefer the phone. One employee might be able to work without much feedback, and another might want lots of positive reinforcement. Learn what motivates employees and tailor communication to each of them. Communication preference can be influenced by a variety of factors — age, culture, experience – but the best way to determine how an employee communicates is to watch, engage and listen. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Observe how quickly he or she responds to an email, how they use body language, if they are direct or would rather sit back and listen. All these things can help you learn how employees communicate with you and coach them to work more effectively with each other.
5. Make your expectations clear – Some of the biggest factors in miscommunication are unclear expectations. Employees need to know what to expect from an organization, company or manager and what the company or manager expects from them. Periodically, outline a set of professional goals for employees – a working document of what you expect from employees. Managers should also be clear on administrative expectations, too. If are a procedures for calling in sick, submitting work, tracking time or scheduling off-site meetings, managers or administrative staff should create a document outlining them. Communicate any changes in goals, strategy or company direction immediately and revise your expectations clearly.
6. Embrace technology – Although technology is not for everyone, it can make communication much more effective. For instance, an instant message system allows employees to send quick updates or messages even more quickly than he or she could pick up the phone and call. This is a perfect solution to employees scattered around the town or country. Content management systems can also be a helpful way to track projects and time – try a site like Asana or Freckle to streamline administrative tasks for your company.
Steven Taylor writes about small business and tech related topics for Time Warner, a business class internet provider.