Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are the largest employers of workers in North America. For example, SMBs employ over 67 percent of the Canadian workforce in five industries and nearly 50 percent of American workers. However, wages are not everything that employees look for in SMB employment. In fact, a key majority of SMB employees says that employee communications directly affects their job satisfaction.
“First and most important is recognition that (SMBs and their personnel) are aligned in interest especially with regard to internal employee communications,” says Jeff Corbin, founder and CEO of APPrise Mobile, maker of mobility communications solution theEMPLOYEEapp. “The target audience is clearly the employees. The most important audience of communications is the employees. Once this is recognized, many issues that SMBs face like employee retention, engagement and satisfaction can be addressed.”
But how many SMBs do you know with an intranet or even a dedicated internal communications staff? In reality, many SMBs have very limited resources to communicate with their personnel. Still, they need an internal communications function of some sort because it is critical to employee engagement, which is important because, according to Dale Carnegie Training, engaged employees produce 202 percent more than their disengaged coworkers.
Fortunately, there are some low-cost, high impact communications tools of which SMBs can take advantage.
As it turns out, some SMBs do have intranets for internal communications. One such company is Blue Corona, a digital marketing firm that helps other B2B SMBs develop online presence to generate leads and sales. According to Blue Corona’s president, Ben Landers, in 2013, the company created an intranet to maintain organizational clarity. “(With the intranet) we define where we’re going, our strategy to get there, our progress, priorities and who needs to do what in order for us to win,” Landers says. “The impact on our net income has been profound—an 800 percent increase between 2013 when we created the intranet and 2014.
And creating company intranets for SMBs does not have to be that expensive. Even at big corporations, the internal communications budgets are not that large, according to Shel Holtz, accredited business communicator, Holtz Communication + Technology.
“I’m always amazed that small/medium-sized businesses think they need big-company budgets to communicate effectively with employees,” he says. “It’s not about the budget. It’s about helping employees figure out where they fit in the company narrative. That doesn’t have to cost a lot, especially in a smaller business in which reaching employees isn’t so complicated.”
One cost-effective way for SMBs to construct their own intranets involves a concept called the “social intranet” from provider Bitrix24, which even offers a free version for up to 12 users. Utilizing their own devices, SMB employees access either a cloud-based or self-hosted solution that includes social networking, group chat, videoconferencing, email, telephony and more.
“The main thing with small businesses using a social intranet is that it’s a BYOD—bring your own device—affair,” says Viktoria Kartunova, Bitrix24 marketing manager. “Employees access corporate portals from smartphones and tablets, which makes communication more fluent and sustained. Not to speak of saving costs on office equipment.”
Email newsletters and desktop applications
Of course, B2B SMBs should not overlook some of the traditional means of keeping the team in touch. Some of these methods include email newsletters and desktop applications. At Front Desk, a software company for personal services, the staff keeps in touch internally in these ways.
“At Front Desk, we send out a newsletter every month called ‘Fresh Faces,’ where we introduce new hires to the rest of the team and have them share a few photos and a write a bio,” says Michelle Riggen-Ransom, director of communications and PR at Front Desk. “This is especially useful if your team is growing quickly as it helps employees get to know new team members they may be working with.”
Other tools that Front Desk uses to keep in contact with employees include desktop applications such as Google Hangouts and Slack to enable real-time communication. “Being able to communicate quickly with someone and even share screens if needed makes a big difference in productivity,” Riggen-Ransom says. “This reduces the need for email back-and-forth and gets employees working through the issue or solving the problem much faster and more efficiently.”
According to some research 72 percent of SMB employees use text messages to communicate with their co-workers, partners and vendors. It could even be the second most popular channel for work communications after email.
Unfortunately, standard text SMS messages are unsecure and only 34 percent of workers think this is a concern when communicating company proprietary and customer privileged and confidential information. In regulated markets such as healthcare, jurisprudence, law enforcement and finance that must comply with stringent information security legislation like HIPAA, FINRA and SOX that strictly limit what information can be shared poses potential legal liability.
To offer a solution in this space, one company called TigerText provides a smartphone application that secures text messages. “For example, physician practices and several departments within hospitals use the app to admit and discharge patients, as well as coordinate patient care,” says Brad Brooks, co-founder and CEO, TigerText. “And local police departments use the app for communicating arrests and emergency calls.”
In addition, by incorporating the app and its desktop console into the SMB daily workflow, employees see an 80 percent reduction in email and phone tag, and staff efficiency increases by 25 percent, according to TigerText.
On-demand and streaming video for workshifting staff
For SMBs with more than one shift or with locations in more than one part of the world, internal communications can be problematic just due to time differences. So how do SMBs with little resources and no communications team talk to employees who might work different shifts, be distributed around the globe and not have dedicated work laptops?
“Many are leveraging live stream and on-demand video that can be sent securely to employees anywhere and anytime,” says Bob Lee, director of product marketing, Ustream, provider of a cloud-based platform for live and on-demand enterprise video. “Video is powerful and engaging and doesn’t take a lot of resources or expertise to get started. In fact, a managers or CEOs can use the video camera built into theirs laptops to stream and record messages that can be sent to employees’ smartphones and stored on a secure channel.”
Ustream uses its own products to keep its 200 or so employees around the globe in contact with live steam video of town halls and sales training on its secure Ustream Align platform. “And we have all sizes of companies who use the platform to give employees updates, conduct shareholder meetings, do regular town halls or team huddles and provide regular product development updates,” Lee says.
According to Ocean Tomo LLC, with 84 percent of the market value of a business coming directly from intangible assets such as employees, their knowledge and the products and services they produce; it’s more important than ever to engage employees. B2B SMBs need to prioritize internal communications to ensure their staff is being heard.
And as a recent Gallup poll found with only 30 percent of workers engaged, there is a lot of work for SMBs to do. Otherwise, they will be losing part of the more than $300 billion in lost productivity each year in the economy, as Gallup also found.