Businesses today have countless communications tools at their fingertips for keeping things running, from simple telephones and video systems to less traditional applications like productivity workflows. Keeping in touch with employees, coworkers, customers, and stakeholders has become easy and seamless, and lots of technology exists that is designed to fit unique business needs.
Not all businesses get the most out of their available communication technologies, however. Often companies put unnecessary work into problems that could more easily or more cheaply be solved with proper use of what they already have working. Whether it’s a sales call, a team meeting, or a long-term project, using existing tools in new ways can both speed up communications and save a business money.
Simultaneous Telephony and the New Long-Distance Call
One of the most powerful results offered by modern communications technology is the ability to distribute a workforce over any geographic area. Although face-to-face meetings and interviews are better for some tasks, the usefulness of tools designed to bring distant teams together cannot be overlooked. Keeping in touch with a distributed sales force, or a sales force that travels regularly, offers flexibility and the pursuit of new opportunities not afforded to older businesses.
These new tools and methods of operation create new issues as well, which are better addressed before their implementation. Optimizing communications technology usage in a business can have growing pains, but these are essential to doing business successfully in an age bombarded with information.
Virtual meetings can be easier to schedule and less of a pain to find enough room for than in-person ones. They also lend themselves to quick, snappy discussion, especially if they use a program like Skype that includes the ability to send instant messaging during conferences. Whereas in an office setting it can be hard to coordinate a stream-of-conscious meeting involving 3 or more people, virtual meetings allow for quick chats that transfer information and ideas more rapidly and with less disruptions to workflow.
Electronic meetings also makes it easy to create video or audio archives of meeting proceedings rather than needing to keep copious written notes. Recording materials are built into most programs and can be automated. Employees whose schedules prevent them from making it to a certain meeting can be briefed in full with a video that captures the important points.
Be wary of pitfalls, especially capturing attendee attention. Those who might be tempted to stray and use their email or cell phones during a meeting are more likely to do so when the repercussions of sitting in a room full of people do not exist. To minimize this, online meetings need to come with continuous engagement. Agendas should be set beforehand and each participant should have an opportunity to speak in a formal setting.
Don’t try to split your attention between engagement management and conducting a purposeful conversation central to the points of the meeting, however. Appoint a trusted colleague to serve as an engagement specialist, who can touch base with people who seem disengaged during appropriate lulls in the meeting. If you prefer, you can move the specialist role around to others as people become more used to the meeting format.
Remote Workers: Staying in Touch
One-on-one communication with remote workers — either by those who are always remote, like freelancers, or those whose jobs take them to remote locations — can also benefit from purposeful use of communications technology. While some use of such technology is inevitable in managing such a workforce, there’s a few tricks you can use to optimize your relationships with freelancers and other remote employees.
If you have both remote and local workers, make the effort to call more often. Just as with family, more frequent calls can make more distant members feel like they’re a part of the group, and help them stay apprised of ongoing developments. Regular calls can transmit corporate culture more effectively than email chains or clunkier conference calls.
Especially when dealing with remote workers, it’s important to keep time zones and other schedules into consideration. Be sure not to schedule important meetings at times that would otherwise complicate a participant’s ability to get the most out of the conference.
The Remote Worker Profile
Not everyone is suited to remote work. The effort required to succeed as a remote worker is significant, and the support structures must be in place for a remote employee or freelance to succeed. According to a 2010 survey conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Brandam University, human resources professionals identified three core traits necessary for remote work to be successful.
Other factors also contribute to effective use of remote work technology, such as familiarity with the technology itself and conflict resolution ability, but these are not as easy to train and are not rated as highly by HR professionals. Communication skills, self-pacing, and accountability make up the core essentials for managing a team of remote workers, and these pillars are typically the foundation on which most good technology is built.
The Importance of Video
When using new media for any type of call, video plays an essential role in maintaining engagement and checking the attention levels of the event. When people can be seen on video it’s much harder for them to wander off to do something else or to otherwise excessively multitask. It keeps the interaction more honest and straightforward, and while it’s not a perfect replacement for face-to-face contact, it also makes it more possible to read people’s feelings during a virtual meeting. Is boredom starting to set in? Have people mentally checked out 20 minutes before the meeting ends? Video makes it easy to notice and adjust.
This is not to say that multitasking or disengagement should be punished, even if it’s made more noticeable. The goal of video is not to chastise a multitasker, but rather to bring them back into the fold more earnestly through clear engagement strategies. Teams that are new to web-based meetings in particular are likely to face an adjustment period as they get the feel for pacing and expectations.
One of video’s major advantages over phones is the opportunity to gauge the emotional state of the participants. A silence on the phone can be anything from pensiveness to exasperation, while on video it’s possible to read expressions and get a sense of what those silences and lulls mean. Take some time during each call to get a sense of where people’s baselines are in terms of expressions, much the same way you would during a face-to-face meeting.
Remote Sales Calls
More and more of the functions that used to require face-to-face communications no longer do, especially when it comes to sales. The great expense of flying someone out for a personal sales meeting can be reduced, in some cases, by replacing it with a series of video calls. Not every product benefits from this approach–some things can only be demonstrated in person, and for these video can only be supplemental. Videotelephony, however, can save time and money for products and companies for which it makes sense.
Generally, video tele-conferences don’t work so well for cold calls, and are better-suited for follow-up calls. Getting a potential customer to agree to a video call, which takes more attention and care than a typical phone call, requires a certain level of buy-in to already be present. It also typically requires customers to have a computer video conferencing program, which may not normally figure into their own daily communication methods.
For checking up on someone once they start or care about a product, however, video calls provide a great opportunity to get a sense of what the customer is really thinking and feeling. Just as with remote meetings, customers can be read more easily than on the phone, and at a much lower premium of expense and time.
Mobile: On the Go
As of 2015, approximately two-thirds of Americans own and use smartphones according to a Pew Research Center study. Mobile computer and communication is among the most adopted technologies in the country. The number is fast on the rise, too: in 2011 only one-third of Americans owned such devices. Most of those who do own smartphones are working-age Americans, as well.
A business that doesn’t integrate such a widely-accepted technology into its communication strategy is losing out on the flexibility that mobile offers, as well some unique advantages that only smartphones can provide.
Mobile CRM: Know Anything, Anywhere, at Any Time
For sales personnel, having a keen knowledge of a customer’s preferences and history with the company is essential, but travel presents new opportunities to lose this knowledge. Folders get lost, bags are shuffled. Anything can happen between a sales representative arriving for a meeting and actually conducting it. This is why mobile CRM is essential: it provides a fail-safe way of getting at customer-company data from anywhere, and fetching it again if it is lost in other places.
Managers of sales teams benefit significantly from this mobility. Accessing more detailed information on a sales team’s performance when talking to business partners or executive staff is easy and updated in real-time so that it is never outdated. Managers can keep tabs on sales team performance and quickly fix issues before they become out of control.
Bring Your Own Device: Pros and Cons
Many organizations provide company tablets, smartphones, or laptops for use with mobile software, but this can be a pricey and sometimes unnecessary investment. With the enormous rate of adoption of these devices in the business world, some companies have begun cutting down on the standardization of devices in favor of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach. This approach has some clear, straightforward benefits, but it also poses many risks and new kinds of difficulties.
- Users are already familiar with their devices. If sales reps are using the same devices they use to call their friends to access their CRM system, they’ll know how to navigate them much more readily. Training time goes down, since less time needs to be spent on learning the operating system of the device itself.
- It’s cheap. BYOD puts the onus of purchasing a device, for the most part, on the employee, which saves money. According to an analysis by Cisco, BYOD policies saved an average of $350 per year per employee involved.
- It boosts productive time. Gains vary from country to country, but the worldwide average time gained through BYOD is about 37 minutes. In America, which has been a rapid adopter of this device policy, the time gain is more than double at about 81 minutes per week.
- BYOD gives employees more control. Don’t like iOS? Use an Android or Windows Phone, assuming they’re compatible with the software your company uses. Don’t like the workflow? Change it. Employees have more control over the processes and functions of their devices than they would under non-BYOD approaches. For younger people in particular, this sense of approach control can be a strong motivator.
- It presents a security risk. Companies that deal with a lot of sensitive data need robust security policies in place to use BYOD effectively. Many choose to purchase technological solutions to these issues, which create separate workspaces on the mobile device for work-related tasks, and which can be remotely wiped. Don’t lose sensitive information because someone’ phone get lost.
- IT has to work harder. When a company has a standard, single device for work-related mobile activity, the IT department can be pretty sure what the common issues and solutions for that device are. With BYOD, there’s more chaos involved–an issue could stem from an out-of-date driver or an incompatible browser rather than a core software functionality issue.
- Devices may not integrate well with on-premises equipment. If every computer in your office runs a version of iOS, is someone’s BYOD Android device going to communicate as effectively with the company’s system? Uniformity ensures a base level of compatibility, both with the devices of other mobile employees and with the equipment used in the office.
None of these are hard-and-fast answers to the question of whether or not a company should adopt a BYOD mobile policy. Each component has weight, but how much weight the risks carry and the advantages carry depends a lot on what sector you work in. A BYOD policy is a poor fit for fields like education or health care, where a great deal of legal constraints on the security of work-related information exist. Many businesses have made great strides and cut costs drastically by instituting BYOD policies, however. Executives and managers interested in instituting such a policy should consult with their IT departments and fellow leadership team members before making a decision.
A Spectrum of Applications
While the strongest benefits of communications technology for business are communication-based, the other applications a mobile device can run also play a strong role in optimizing employee efficiency. Meeting apps can multiply the effectiveness of the device itself in communicating. Productivity apps can keep employees organized on the go. Cloud-based computing can let employees share the most current versions of their work at the push of a button, making sure the amount of duplicate work is minimized and teams can work as a unit more smoothly.
Phones are also capable of accepting payments on the go these days. Small businesses can now gain the benefits of mobile credit and debit card processing through applications like Square, which provides credit card readers that hook into a phone’s headphone slot. When securing a purchase on the go, tools like these can add to the immediacy of a sales opportunity.
Connect With the World
Though much ink has been spilled about the isolating effects of technology, about busy professionals and young people alike pouring all their attention into their devices, communications technology doesn’t have the be the enemy of good, personal business. Companies can use the technology to provide a personal touch even in situations where previously there would have been no option but to send stolid emails or carry on awkward phone conversations.
Employees also no longer have to be chained to their desks or caught incommunicado while on the go. Steps towards their destination no longer have to take them further away from the information and support they need to do their jobs effectively.