Good business communication is key for efficient business decision making and the running of everyday processes. What are the most popular communication tools used in business today? What trends can we expect to see in business communication in the future and how will these trends affect the way we do business and communicate with colleagues and clients online?
Good Communication in the Workplace
Effective communication helps get the job done on time and within budget. Managers and team leaders who can communicate, and relay objectives, reasoning and specific tasks in a concise and coherent manner, using the right tools fit for purpose, contribute significantly more to the success of a business than those who fail to communicate efficiently during day-to-day business activities.
Business Communication Tools
Thanks to smartphones, laptops and tablets, present day communication is expected to be instantaneous.
Businesses use intranets, apps, emails and video calls to communicate between employees and across departments. With so many communication options available these days, it can be hard for businesses to know what tools to use and how to use them most effectively. Here are some of the most popular and efficient business communication tools:
An intranet is a private hub that can be accessed by any authorized users within a business organization - it is mainly used for internal communication and collaboration. In this age of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and telecommuting, an intranet solution will result in a more flexible workforce and ensure all employees are working towards the same goals.
You might be interested in implementing an intranet strategy if:
- You and your employees find it difficult to stay up to date with any company announcements or news
- If feels like there is a communication breakdown between departments and employees
- Important documents go missing or are buried in thousands of emails
- There is too much paperwork
- There is no clear or standard orientation policy for new employees or interns
- It's difficult to form cross functional teams to resource projects
Intranets have taken big leaps forward during the last 6 years and now often include features to allow teams and individual users to collaborate and communicate with people (internal and external), send, receive and edit documents as well as intuitive features to easily navigate the user interface and connected environments. Intranets can connect with external data sources like Google, Google+, Wikipedia, plus your own business systems etc. to provide additional real time data and enhanced knowledge across the workforce. Business intranets have also become the standard in managing data including policies, guidelines, procedures, protocols, corporate documents, branding, logos and other resources.
Chat rooms, Private and Group Messaging
Collaborative spaces which provide private/group messaging and chat functions are often viewed as one of the best business communication tools to keep teams working together. It’s an effective form of communication for busy employees and managers. Instant messaging makes updates on projects and general team discussion much easier. This works well when employees or team members are spread across different geographical locations and different time zones. Files can be shared and conversations can be accessed if needed. Chat rooms and group messaging environments may seem the same, but the interfaces are often very different. For instance, your company might get more out of an instant messaging platform than a chat room if you don't have a lot of team-based projects, and individuals only occasionally need to contact other individuals within the organization.
Let's take a look at the differences in these platforms:
Instant messaging (IM) – instant messages are commonly used for recreation but are now widely used within business organizations for employee-employee messaging or employee-management messaging. Regardless of the specific software you use, IM provides an interface for individuals to communicate one-on-one. Most software also allows the creation of group messages, but this is not the primary intended use of IM.
Chatrooms – whether business or casual, private or public, chat rooms are forums for specific groups of people to interact and receive notifications. Many chat rooms are based on a shared topic or characteristic. For example, there are chat rooms for specific age groups and interests. Although many IM clients and intranets support some kind of group messaging dynamic, chat room software is specifically designed for team/group-based information sharing and messaging.
Bots – a chat bot or chat robot is software that can interact with users using chat mechanisms, whether a person is using IM or has joined a chat room. In some cases, users will be able to get stock status, weather reports and even movie listings. Some bots can be quite hi-tech, but in most instances users are aware that they are not interacting with an actual human.
In many cases, it’s essential to have a method to communicate with either a single member of staff or the whole team. This will come in very handy when tackling projects and any troubleshooting issues and when properly utilized, will lessen the need for email.
IMs and chat rooms can also improve customer service. Customers will no longer have to wait for long periods of time to get the answers they need about a product or service. Today, customers can get instant replies that provide resolutions to their issues and inquiries.
Popular examples of these messaging tools are Slack, HipChat and Skype.
Although discussion forums may seem like old tech to some, it is still one of the preferred communication business tools used today. A discussion forum can bring together management and employees and allows for an open discussion on any topic (usually set up and monitored/moderated). It can also help in knowledge dissemination and bring the workforce together. Forums are also effective in archiving organizational knowledge to be used by anyone as a reference. Employee morale can also be boosted by participating in regular discussion forums.
One challenge many companies face is a lack of participation from employees in the general day-to-day activities of the organization. Employees are more likely to enjoy their work and do well if they feel they are part of the work community. Logging on to a discussion forum at the start of the work day is a great way to increase employee engagement and produce new ideas and decisions. Using a company forum in this way often produces better results than communicating over email, for example. While email could be considered a closed discussion environment, forums are an open environment. If an employee sees a forum post they are interested in or are knowledgeable about, they will usually be able to contribute something useful or valuable. A discussion forum integrated with internal email will allow the business to have the best of both worlds. Employees can participate in forums using Outlook, or the company’s mobile email client or via a browser.
Discussion forums will also facilitate knowledge sharing. No time will be wasted answering the same questions again and again once the company forum has been integrated with enterprise search. This will enable forum information to be discovered by people who need it, when they need it.
Ticketing, Issue Tracking and Case Software
A case tracking system enables employees and customers to submit a case or support ticket. This allows it to be assigned to the right employee and have it checked and resolved in time. A case tracking system helps centralize customer support queries and keep track of any open issues. Track team productivity, prioritize the most relevant and important queries and collect valuable customer feedback that can help in improving your products, services and customer relationships. An issue tracking system is generally used in an organization’s customer support call center to create, update and resolve reported customer issues or even issues reported by employees within the company.
When submitting a trouble/support ticket, it should include all the important information on the customer/account involved and the type of issue encountered. An issue tracking system often contains a knowledge base (KB) about a customer’s information, issues, resolutions to common problems and other essential data to be used in troubleshooting and resolution. The ticket within an issue tracking system is the running report in a specific issue containing information about whether it has been resolved or not and other relevant data. A trouble ticket is usually created in a call center or a help desk and will always have a unique reference number assigned to it. This case number is provided to the customer to help staff quickly locate, open and communicate the status of the request.
Popular examples of issue tracking system include JIRA, HelpScout, Desk and ZenDesk.
Internal Blogs, Video and Audio
Content is a defining factor when determining whether your teams are engaged or not. Enticing articles, eye-catching images and videos across the company intranet will result in more traction and engagement from everyone in the organization. Training and tutorial videos, video messages from management and behind-the-scene footage can be posted on the company intranet which can increase employee engagement and retention. Infographics are well suited for marketing departments and for showing and explaining particular company processes. This medium is visually appealing and helps communicate many instructions quickly and easily.
An internal blog is also a good option. This is not something your customers and competitors will be able to access. The internal blog is a place where employees can share ideas and experiences fast and in an informal fashion. Internal blog advantages can include:
- Broadcasting and highlighting an employee’s knowledge about a certain topic or area of the organization
- Creating a searchable and permanent archive of KB articles, knowledge and expertise. All the KB articles uploaded and published on an internal blog will stay there unless deleted manually
- It promotes open discussion and collaboration among the workforce. There are instances where some employees will be more likely to speak up in a virtual environment than face-to-face
- It connects employees across departments
- It keeps the staff up-to-date on important information and company updates
Podcasts are generally presented as audio files available to stream or download. In the past, people mainly tune in to podcasts on their desktop computer or laptops, but they are slowly becoming more popular on mobile devices. For many businesses, it’s easy to grasp the idea of a podcast for external marketing, but a business organization can also utilize podcasting to reach the internal workforce. Some business experts have stated that many employees make listening to company podcasts a part of their weekly work routine. An internal podcast can cover topics such as messages from the CEO, new processes, employee assistance programs and other human-interest topics. There are many tutorial videos on how to make a simple podcast. You can start from there by using a simple microphone, a free audio-editing software and a computer. Once everything is rolling and producing good results, you can invest in better equipment or put more focus on getting influential podcast guests. But remember, technology is just secondary and content always rules.
Although not a direct communication tool, gamification can be applied in business intranets to break up routine and to encourage engagement in areas including and other than business matters. Gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to reach company or business goals. This concept taps into a person’s basic needs, desires and impulses which revolve around the idea of achievement and status. The term “gamification” was first used in 2003 by Nick Pelling but did not gain popularity until 2010.
Gamification is used by businesses to drive the desired behavior of users. The result is usually advantageous to the brand. One common technique of gamification is rewarding users who have accomplished desired tasks with points, badges or elevated status. The idea is to showcase expertise, talents and accomplishments of the users or employees. Another technique used in gamification is competition. The desire to appear on the leader board will drive staff to do and complete more tasks efficiently which fuels engagement.
Gamification is also a very practical technique that can be used to motivate better performance, drive business results and generate a competitive advantage. Implementing gamification techniques can provide managers with valuable information about what activities and content types are producing the best results. It also allows businesses to adapt to various user behaviors and motivations. To get the most value out of gamification, you as a business should go beyond the data and try to understand how and why users are behaving the way they do.
Recent examples of gamification incorporated into company intranets include:
- Raine and Horne (view the case study here) who surfaced sales data from all their offices to spur competition and increase results
- Taking Shape (view the case study here) who pulled in sales data from their 150+ boutique and specialty stores to highlight trends and motivate staff
The advantages of gamification will vary from industry to industry. Game features and game mechanics are designed to boost certain metrics. In gamification, it’s essential to monitor the performance of your metrics to ensure you’re getting the best results and your players (employees) are happy. Industries that implement gamification effectively include education, commerce, entertainment, marketing and business enterprises.
The measurable metrics of success include:
- Time spent
- User-generated content
2016 Business Communication Trends
The face of business communication is always evolving thanks to emerging technology and changing business processes. Many of these technological changes will impact which tools are used by many organizations, but also the communication process as a whole. Below are 5 top business communications trends to look out for this year.
1. Web-Based Communication
Technologies like VoIP (Voice over IP) are reducing the need for traditional phones while WebRTC (Web Real Time Communications) enables video conferencing from different places around the world using standard browsers and applications. Considering the easy implementation of WebRTC which allows audio, video and data sharing directly from a browser, there will be less of a need to maintain conventional communication infrastructures.
2. Continued Shift to Mobile Computing
The benefits of mobile devices are seen in the applications that they run. Say for example, internal business announcements are often made on social intranets and social media as the organization continues to apply new technologies for communication which are readily accessible using mobile and smart devices. Many collaboration platforms and productivity applications are supporting this shift towards remote working by enabling their workforce to conduct business everywhere as long as they have good Internet access. These tools provide employees access to business data and CRM platforms through their smart mobile devices.
3. Increased Use of Cloud-Based Solutions
The ever-increasing use of mobile devices provides an opportunity for many cloud-based communication solutions. Many businesses are already taking advantage of cloud technologies because of easy implementation and reduced cost. Hosted real-time communication provides an enhanced business communication solution as compared to on-site systems. Integrating cloud technology with an existing CRM can provide customer representatives, office executives or anyone with permitted access to a central place to view and use client data and manage customer relations. And because of this, the level of customer service will be enhanced while improving efficiency within the organization. It also allows employees to log into the back-end systems on any device even if the company issued device is not accessible at the time.
4. More Focus on Enterprise and Cloud Security
This is not a new trend but this year it will be as important as ever. With many business organizations continuing to take advantage of mobile and cloud solutions, the rise in number of associated devices means it is more likely to have breakpoints. High profile cyber-attacks have emphasized how exposed any system network can be. The technological advancements that continue to provide the business community with relevant and helpful tools also means that new opportunities will continue to rise for hackers. Why? Because each new technology will have weak points before they are identified fixed, and secured. The fast-changing threats to many communication applications need dedicated efforts to ensure integrity and security.
5. Increased Cloud and Web Solutions Spending
Despite the proven savings and operating web-based communication solutions, implementing and maintaining the security of the network will contribute to an increase in overall IT spending this year. And with the positive signs of economic growth, many businesses are looking to keep up. More personnel will be hired and spending on cloud and web solutions will allow businesses access to the latest technologies, software updates and patches, ensuring the business is technologically competitive.
Business communication trends will always be changing. It’s up to businesses to keep up with technology. Having the right tools and technology will facilitate making your business competitive in your field and improving overall business communications.