The COVID-19 pandemic currently plaguing society has been especially difficult for small businesses. According to Yelp, a review site for businesses, around 132,000 local businesses have closed their doors due to expenses and business troubles resulting from the pandemic. If you own a local business, you’ve likely wondered what areas could be improved, and how you can make small changes for a big impact.
One of the easiest ways to impact your business is through improving communication. With many businesses opting to work from home, many owners are struggling with the virtual environment. The many tools and technologies used to communicate online may have you frustrated too; if that’s the case, read on for three ways to improve your virtual communication during the pandemic.
1. Moving Online
The first step in improving your communication is the act of moving online itself. If you’re currently using group chats or another asynchronous form of communication such as email without any other supplements, you haven’t truly moved online. Here is a list of the most useful tools that you can implement into your business today. Present these to your team to see if the communication channels would work for you and your business needs.
- Faxing is not always possible right now, as most people don’t have access to a fax machine in their homes. Luckily, you can send faxes online with eFax for documents that cannot be emailed or messaged to clients. Also, eFax has a feature called enhanced security, which provides a more secure method of sending and receiving faxes.
- Microsoft Teams
- Microsoft Teams is a popular chat and video conferencing software that will work with the email service Outlook for scheduling meetings. If you’ve connected Outlook to your scheduling software, you can also see when your colleagues are busy, or when they’re available for a meeting. This eliminates the need for a back-and-forth email conversation about when to have a conference call.
- Slack is an easy to use messaging and communication software that many businesses have already implemented. Slack is a solution for smaller to medium businesses, as you can implement it for free. Slack uses messaging boards in addition to integrating with applications for document sharing. Google Docs, for example, is an application that works with Slack
- If you’ve ever attended a conference or meeting online, you’ve likely used Zoom. That’s because it’s absolutely free, and you can join either with an account or as a guest. With Zoom, you can also lock or unlock your room to keep unauthorized individuals from entering the video call.
In addition to implementing these technologies from scratch, you can also integrate most of them with your current communication methods, such as email, instant messaging, and video conferencing. In any case, finding a technology to replace in-person communication is a must during the pandemic. Whether you are a small or large business, you will need a way to call, video call, message, and share documents with your team. Try giving these ideas a trial run today.
Once you’ve found your tool for communication, it’s a good idea to have a standard methodology of communication so everyone on your team knows the expectations set for them by management. One of the most widely recognized blueprints for communication is from the project management field. According to the University of Michigan, a good communication methodology must meet several standards, reach multiple audiences, and is made up of careful planning.
The methods you use to communicate with your teams and clients must be applicable to both small and large efforts. For example, if you have a template for professional emails that your employees adhere to, it must be appropriate for email within the company and for critical emails to clients for business agreements.
Every communication channel that your company has must follow the same rules. Without a consistent rule for communication within your business, the quality and worth of your work will fall dramatically. It is much easier to communicate face-to-face, but when you communication is virtual, you must inform employees on the proper ways to sound professional during video calls and emails.
As with any great methodology, your communication methods should be constantly improving. If possible, sit down with your team every month or quarter to go over the quality and possible improvements for your current communication methodologies. If you notice that emails to clients are sloppy, edit the methodology and implement it with your team to see improvements.
For further instruction on building out your communication methodology, you can view the University of Michigan’s guide here.
3. Staying Engaged
Last but certainly not least, keeping employees engaged with the company and their work is made doubly challenging by the move to all-virtual communication. If you’re experiencing a lag with employee engagement or interest in their work, it might be time to spice up the working environment.
While creating fun events for employees is difficult even in a face-to-face setting, finding great things to do online is even harder. However, there are still some great ideas for having fun, while staying socially distant.
For example, you can host a virtual happy hour on your video conferencing software. Ask your employees to set their background to a fun theme, bring your own alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, and have some fun together. In fact, you may consider suggesting a drink recipe on the video call, such as a margarita or mojito to get everyone online.
You can also play a game of online trivia or Pictionary using webcams or other online games to make it even more fun. There are several virtual games that work well with video conferencing: Skriblio is a Pictionary clone, JackBox games is an “Apples to Apples”-type word game, and if your company is a little more laid back, you can try “Pretend You’re XYZZY” which is a clone of the popular Cards Against Humanity card game. If you want to raise the stakes of the game, offer a prize to the winner and a punishment to the loser. For example, place the winner’s picture on your company website as a fun way to acknowledge them, and change the loser’s profile picture to something silly as a punishment. If you are creative, there are infinite ways to play these online game nights with your colleagues, to boost morale and build bonds.
Most businesses are struggling right now, especially when it comes to communication. If you want to stay ahead of the competition, try implementing these strategies to improve your company’s communication. In the future, when the pandemic is over, you may even consider keeping some of your new implementations.