Communication is key. We all know that tired axiom, but so much that goes wrong in a business can be boiled down to a failure to communicate. What’s more, during the current disruption, many businesses have made a dramatic shift from office-based teams to working from home, requiring enhanced or even overhauled communication strategies for a suddenly dispersed workforce. So, let’s revisit the purpose of communication and some tools that could level up any business’s communication infrastructure.
The aim of communication can be boiled down to two spheres: to ensure efficiency and to build culture.
Excellent communication doesn’t help or improve efficiency: it guarantees it, though it’s worth noting that while we typically associate efficiency with completing an objective, sometimes it refers to realising when it’s time to return to the drawing board and shift strategies. Good communication imparts goals and objectives of the business, teams and individuals – and who’s doing what and when in order to make those goals happen. Policies and procedures that were designed to maintain productivity and prevent hiccups are easily found, and there’s an available overview of business and team strategies, both immediate and long-term.
Good communication also builds a culture of openness and trust. Relationships are built through work conversations, but there should also be an opportunity for non-work chatter – when relationships are moved from the professional domain to the personal for deeper trust and understanding of colleagues. Staff can easily praise colleagues for the mundane and everyday up to the grandiose, and they know that they express grievances without negative consequences. Everyone is also allowed channels to buy into team and business decisions, and they’re kept up-to-date with what’s happening across their team and the company.
All of this is well and good, but now for the practical.
Communication Tools & Ideas
We all know that communication is essential to a business, and now that we’ve reviewed the advantages of communication, below are communication tools and ideas for how to use them. They’re essential at Payara, and they could bring value to any business’s communication arsenal.
Internal chat tool
While email is used to communicate information and announcements that require basic and minimal interaction, a chat tool is essential for rapid-fire questions that take just a minute to answer, inviting dialogue amongst multiple colleagues – even the entire business and just casual conversation.
It’s important to have policies around this regarding taboo subjects and at least a common-sense approach to how much non-work conversation is accepted, but this “water-cooler chat” should be welcomed to build trust and community on a personal level. Payara has even established chat rooms dedicated to non-work chat – including a “Cabin Fever” channel for any comm’s around the interesting circumstances we find ourselves in during a pandemic-induced lockdown. People post challenges, recommendations, games and sometimes just expression in Cabin Fever.
A chat tool can be the best way to build casual relationships remotely, get quick questions answered and host dialogue amongst multiple team-members. Some examples of popular chat apps include Slack, Microsoft Teams (Payara’s choice), Stride, Google Hangouts, Discord – there are many to choose from.
AV meeting software
Audio and video chat is vital for a remote team. It is the best simulation of in-person, face-to-face conversation, and it will fast become a crucial tool for all meetings, from stand-ups to topic-based to performance reviews and beyond. At Payara we require all chat participants to turn on their cameras (no judgment for bad hair days!), as this enhances the sense of connection – a boon for mental health when many of us are isolated.
Many chat apps also host video-chat meeting tools (including Microsoft Teams), and Zoom has reigned supreme during the pandemic thanks to its accessibility, simple interface and free price tag for basic functions.
Task management tools
Task management can be especially tricky with several team-members. It’s important to use an application that’s no less accessible for those working from home than for those in an office if you have a blended workforce of office and home-based like Payara has. Task management tools centralise workflows by showing project timelines and who’s assigned what – and how everyone’s objectives within a project relate to each other’s as they work towards common objectives and goals.
Payara uses Atlassian’s Jira (which has software-building-specific tools), but there are plenty of others that offer more general task management, including Trello, Easynote, Monday.com, Accelo, Nifty, Asana and many others. Explore to see which task management application fits your team’s needs.
While task management software offers a centralised workflow, internal wikis are a central database of information and knowledge-sharing, and they fast become an essential tool for any business. Internal wiki’s record processes, policies, procedures and projects. What’s more, with liberal settings anyone can contribute to a wiki (we practice this openness at Payara), which can increase ownership for all staff.
At Payara, each team has dedicated sub-wiki’s as do large projects, and even individuals have personal wiki pages to use however they want. We also use our wiki to host a monthly newsletter that all Payarans can contribute to. This newsletter includes personal Payaran news, team news, company news and industry news, and we recognise stand-out performance as well as anniversaries and birthdays.
As you can imagine, with such open contribution and compounding topics, it’s important to maintain organisation so that information is easily retrieved. Clear organisation policies and an occasional “spring cleaning” are good ideas, putting each team in charge of their pages’ maintenance.
Some popular internal wiki hosts include Confluence, Tettra and Wikidot.
Calendars are essential for keeping up with events and colleagues’ availability so that project timelines can be planned and activities efficiently arranged. Calendars include individual availability – like what we typically find in the Outlook Calendar app – as well as business events and deadlines, which can be posted in Outlook or organised within an internal wiki page. The simpler the better: it’s best to have “a single source of truth” rather than various calendars in multiple locations.
This is my favourite communication tool as it dynamically breaks down silo’s, creates a wide-angle view of the company’s position and allows visible buy-in from team-members. Payara hosts quarterly Virtual Payara Days (VPD) to bring everyone across all teams and on several continents together on our AV meeting software. We start every VPD with stand-ups from all seniority levels (apprentices to senior leadership), presented to the entire company. We also use VPD’s to roll out company-wide initiatives.
Our biggest communication event is certainly our annual Payara Week conference, which goes further than VPD by bringing the company together in one physical place (this year was the beautiful island of Madeira) for a week of cross-team strategizing and team-building.
Consider company-wide events that your business could manage. They don’t have to be physical: with the right communication tools (an AV meeting tool should cut it), you can safely host an energising company conference even during a global pandemic lockdown.
Depending on your business, communication and information tools related to functions can be handy. For software companies, Github and Zendesk are common tools. HR information systems are also handy for managing time off workflows between HR and Teams and sending out HR_specific forms and documents.
This article draws from Payara’s own tried and true practices, and there are plenty of tools and resources for communication excellence bespoke to any business. Communication is always key, but during challenges and disruptions like the one we’re all experiencing, it’s more important than ever to ensure everyone in the business is on the right track, together.