Four digital communication mistakes small businesses need to avoid

By Deirdre Byrne, Head of UK & Ireland, Slack

As businesses grow, how they communicate has to change – in fact, recent research we conducted among UK small businesses revealed that 1 in 3 are on the lookout for new ways of working in the year ahead.

That’s because a team of 100 people requires different techniques to communicate compared to a team of ten. This sounds obvious, yet too often approaches to communication don’t evolve alongside a scaling business. The result? Lower quality work, a poorer customer experience and an unfulfilling culture.

So, what are the biggest communication mistakes growing companies make, and how can they be avoided?

  1. Reliance on the “hodge-podge”

One of the most common mistakes small and growing businesses make is simply not having a communication strategy at all. Instead, these businesses rely on the “hodge-podge”, a Frankenstein of dozens of different tools and practices that leave teams overwhelmed and confused.

It might be that employees are using a messaging service or texts on their personal phones to discuss a project when working remotely, using email for external communications, or sometimes using video calls but other times a conference solution. The result is chaotic. Nobody knows where information sits or what the best practice is – and that’s before thinking about the issues this disconnect can create around data security.

Escaping the hodge-podge, and taking a less-is-more approach with purpose-built communication solutions, is key for small businesses who want to grow effectively.

  1. The meeting for everything mindset 

An overload of meetings is often a tell-tale sign that something is wrong with a small business’s communication. Packed days are not going to make for a productive team. However, if the business is relying on the “hodge-podge” above, it may be that meetings feel like the only way to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, this is a sticking-plaster solution, not a long-term fix.

To reduce their reliance on meetings, businesses need best practices for how they should be used. A few simple steps, like limiting the number of ‘all-hands’ or ‘all-team’ meetings per week, creating clear agendas or even having specific meeting-free days can make a real difference. Alongside this, using a platform that offers more intuitive ways to connect and engage teams – whether hopping on impromptu audio or video huddles for a quick discussion or sharing a recorded clip – can provide better ways to communicate, while creating some breathing room in packed diaries.

Over at the fast-growing fashion retailer Oh Polly, the team has focused on reducing meetings and communicating more efficiently since day one. By using Slack to keep everyone connected in channels that are organised by topics or projects, they’ve cut the average time employees spend on meetings down to just two hours – meaning more time to focus on doing great work.

  1. Wheeling out the whiteboard for brainstorming 

Picture a cramped room and a big whiteboard with ‘Q4 IDEAS’ in the middle of it – few environments are less likely to inspire creative communication. Today, collaboration and ideation is about more than scribbling a few notes in marker pen. In an increasingly digitised world, teams need to be able to bring all kinds of assets to the table and be able to involve anyone from across the business – whether that’s a marketer sharing inspiration from a recent brand campaign, or a salesperson drawing on data from the upcoming pipeline.

Curating this content doesn’t have to be difficult. Instead of kicking off with a literal blank slate, teams should think about using technology to capture all the details they want to consider ahead of a brainstorm session. With a digital canvas, they can embed files, images, videos and more, co-edit with other teammates and even integrate other apps and AI to accelerate work further. With that foundation, they’ll be set to communicate creatively with all the resources they need at their fingertips.

  1. Failing to integrate tools 

Small and growing business employees have more insights available to them than ever today. That data comes from countless areas: their sales pipelines, their calendars, shared drives, company surveys – the list goes on. The problem is, this data often lacks a single home – it’s instead spread out across different tools – so people struggle to communicate, share and utilise it.

By using integrations within a productivity platform, companies can easily discover the insights they need by plugging all their different tools into one place. For example, a salesperson can pull an update from CRM software and pop it to their finance team, while a customer support rep can grab a ticket from a helpdesk application and work on it with their manager. All this communication takes place within that one productivity platform, without having to swap back and forth between tools, helping teams stay efficient and productive.

Small business communication with a big impact

According to our research, internal and external communication and teamwork rank as the most important employee skills for small businesses in the year ahead. By actively thinking about communication and avoiding the mistakes and pitfalls above, small businesses can hone those skill sets, and take their work up a notch.

Most importantly of all, with teams engaged, and knowledge flowing seamlessly, they’ll not just have manageable inboxes and better meetings, but will be able to focus on the real work that keeps the business growing.