More Office Communication Jungle
What’re the most effective communication tools for your firm?
January 4, 2010
It has become increasingly difficult to manage the most effective ways to communicate. In my last column I shared information on e-mails, document sharing and more. Here I divulge best practices to have a more efficient communication system.
Most commonly thought of as an activity reserved for teenagers rather than an incredibly powerful tool for the office, instant messaging can provide real value to your business. However, there are many owners who would rather not deal with it and for good reason. Most instant messaging clients (programs) are insecure, opening your network to much vulnerability. Almost all clients lack a unified source of historical data, which makes tracking staff communications difficult. Staff often attempt to transfer documents back and forth to each other, office and home, putting your client’s data out on the Internet unsecured. Many staff members choose to use instant messaging instead of e-mail, which creates more problems in tracking projects. As with e-mail, instant messaging is incredibly difficult to decipher tone, inflection and sarcasm making an innocent comment into a lost staff member or client.
When you use a unified instant messaging system you create historical data, which is great for tracking projects and managing staff activities. When a staff member needs to ask quick questions or deliver short messages you’ll find instant messaging to be the right choice instead of e-mail or picking up the phone. It also allows you to discuss private matters without speaking on the phone. Instant messaging unifies the office without needing to pick up the phone or sending an e-mail. Instant messaging should be reserved for inter-office communication, not client information.
Everyone seems to be texting these days but it presents many problems when integrating with the office. Texting does not provide unified historical data, which can be a problem when attempting to track correspondence. Many times, texting is used for long conversations, which should be done in person or over the phone. Staff members who text often forget that texting should never be used for time sensitive messages as delivery times are unreliable. Texting lacks security and tracking, making it unattractive as an option for client communication.
Texting is best used when needing to send quick updates that don’t require an e-mail to staff members who are offsite. This kind of communication is extremely helpful when it is used for one-way, non-time sensitive updates about group projects.
Taking notes has been an age-old medium and style of remembering information for use at a later time. But with age it has neglected to keep up with ever-changing technology. There is usually no unified storage besides maybe a filing cabinet. Every staff member takes notes differently and therefore there is no format to which that is adhered. When notes are updated there is no historical data to associate with that note that there has been a change. And unless client/project folders are used there is even less information about how notes are associated with these relationships.
But if you were to have a unified storage system that keeps all notes in a digital format, you can then access these notes from virtually anywhere. Every office should establish some type of note taking guidelines that help staff members format their notes in a way that everyone can decipher them and make actionable decisions from them. With your storage system it is advantageous to have some way to link these notes to your client/project files in your network. This allows your staff to have all the necessary information available before they speak with a client about a specific project.
After toiling away on their own, many owners decide to move to multiple software programs to help them manage their practice. They often end up becoming the computer technician of the office having to fix every issue. Owners then find that having all these programs do help accomplish certain tasks but lack tracking and historical data between these programs. Retrieving data from multiple programs becomes increasingly laborious and tedious, while delegation and accountability is incredibly difficult to manage. Sharing data between programs is almost nonexistent as well as running reports in the same format.
It’s time to have software help you rather than work against you. Every owner should consider reducing the amount of programs they use to the fewest possible excluding their industry specific applications. This not only helps with management and technical issues but can save money on license fees. If possible, using one program can dramatically improve tracking items from daily tasks, delegation, accountability, sharing data and reporting. Using fewer programs will decrease the amount of time it takes to retrieve data, which will save money and frustration. And all of this means increased billings.
While there is a jungle of communication options to consider, it is important to remember that when making a choice, to consider the management aspect of your choices. Owners will often choose individual options that increase management involvement or commitments rather than saving time. These software options almost always end up costing more money than saving time. Consider each of the communication methods in this article. Look at the big picture while solving each inherent problem before implementing a solution.
Randolph P. Johnston, MCS/MCP, is executive vice president at K2 Enterprises. He is a nationally recognized educator, consultant and writer with over 30 years experience in strategic technology planning, systems and network integration, accounting software selection, business development and management, disaster recovery and contingency planning and process engineering. Please note the views expressed in this article are solely the author’s and in no way reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA Insider™.