As your business grows, you naturally open more branches, more offices, and more physical locations. These branches can be spread across a relatively small geographical area or across the globe but will present communication problems no matter what the distance. At the same time, these communication problems will persist whether you have one or a dozen or more branches. People simply communicate better when they can connect in person and moving teams from branch to branch often isn’t an option, even for large projects. Working to streamline communication across all branches and offices is crucial to ensuring inter-office productivity.
Taking the following steps to streamline multi-branch communications will help you to establish seamless communication across distances.
Establish Video Conferencing
Video conferencing is one of the easiest ways to establish a clear and immediate line of communication, while adding a more personal and connected solution than simply calling. Many people communicate as much with body language as with words, so adding visuals to calls can greatly enhance the quality of communication.
Installing conferencing tools also allows you to create a simple and secure way to call. Teams can call from a set space such as an office screen and camera and communicate with entire teams at once, without utilizing their computers. A video calling network also ensures that individuals can easily contact each other, typically by dialing a set number, just like with a phone network. This avoids the necessity of finding and calling specific people, because you can look up offices or use a directory instead.
Some video conferencing networks also work over VoIP, allowing individuals to conference together from their computers as well.
Utilize the Same Tooling Across Branches
While establishing visual communication is one way to establish direct communication, tooling helps you to establish indirect communication. Here, ensuring everyone uses the same tooling and processes means that everyone knows how work is completed, where it is completed, and how processes work. Files and completed work will be easy to share across offices. One team can easily pick up and continue work on what another team was doing, and collaboration will be that much easier.
Many organizations often allow teams to purchase or select their own tooling, but establishing organization-wide policies and databases, so that individuals seeking new solutions have to either choose something already available or introduce something new to the entire organization will prevent situations in which each office is essentially its own culture and organization.
Attempt to Maintain a Single Phone System
While it’s not possible to maintain a single phone system if your branches are in different countries, you can install and maintain the same phone system across most branches and offices. This is highly advantageous because it reduces complexities, means that everyone is on the same system, and allows someone from one branch to internally dial someone from another branch. This will greatly reduce time-to-call, especially if you are on a secure network or have security issues regarding calling and sharing information.
Ensure Everyone is On the Same Network
Developing a single network works to ensure communication between branches by establishing organization-wide access to files. Here, you should create a network containing all relevant organizational information, ranging from business processes to roles, employee information, and file-sharing. Creating a network of this type may seem daunting but will save you a great deal in terms of file transfer, lost time, and security.
Why? If employees access all files and information in the same place, you can easily manage access rights and access order. If something goes wrong, you have a record of who did what and where, because all users have a username and identification on the network. At the same time, if teams are collaborating on files, they don’t have to wait for it to be shared, they can simply access it on their shared folder of the network.
Creating a single network across all your branches also means that you can bring teams together across offices and branches. Here, teams can have dedicated spaces and file storage, where they can simply access and collaborate on documents, files, and even code without waiting.
Don’t Open too Many Lines of Communication
While many people approach inter-office communication from the perspective of “there’s never enough communication” this approach can eventually get in the way. How? If you have too many modes of communication open, each person will select their own personal favorite, may be overwhelmed with the number of options and not check all of them, and will miss messages. Forcing everyone to use a few dedicated lines of communication such as video conferencing for inter-office meetings, a phone system for quick calls, email, and a dedicated chat platform like Slack will ensure that everyone sees all messages. Similarly, ensuring that everyone works on a business email set up by the organization gives you control over users and their addresses, to ensure that everyone uses the same format and email address, making communication easier between branches.
Establish Inter-Office Guidelines
One of the largest barriers between offices and branches isn’t space or communication channels, it’s a lack of standards. For example, if users operate in different time-zones, communicate using different channels, or even use different languages, communication can be difficult. Take the time to write out standards for inter-office communication, defining hours in which one office can expect another to answer, preferred languages, and other details will help to improve communication. Here, you should respect each branch’s time-zone, working hours, and culture.
Inter-office and inter-branch communication present a lot of challenges in that most people will never be in the same room together. While there’s very little that can replace the communication offered by simply being able to get up and walk to someone’s desk to ask a question, there are many steps you can take to improve inter-branch communication, no matter how great the physical distance.
In some cases, you may also want to plan for occasional physical meetups, especially if teams are working together for very long periods or on very long projects. While not always important, establishing kick-offs for large projects with one-time meetups is often a great idea. However, meeting in person is not always financially feasible as an investment, and alternatives such as video conferencing and chat are much better alternatives.