A few years ago, Google released a study that showed the biggest causes of strife in SMEs are long hours and a lack of teamwork. Email overload and meetings were also sore spots.
There are, however, plenty of digital tools and common sense tips that could make life a lot easier.
Email is still the standard method of communication in offices, but that doesn't mean it's being done right. Email should be clear, concise and to the point. At the same time, you need to remember that when you send an email a real person, with real feelings, is reading it.
It is all too easy to cause offence by being brusque and detached. Even if you are working remotely, remember that you are still part of a team and and you need to keep a sense of camaraderie and collaboration in all forms of communication. Also, accept that sometimes it's better to pick up the phone, or see someone face to face, than risk offence by email.
Cloud computing has brought about a raft of products that are designed to specifically help you work as a team. In fact, Google found that new digital tools are more commonly used by those individuals whose organisations have seen an increase in profits or turnover in 2012.
We are fans of Basecamp, as we have written about before. But think about your company culture and your employees' needs. Perhaps Google Docs is more suitable for multiple iterations to team documents; or maybe Producteev is better if your team works well with multiple tasks and to-dos. There are plenty of options out there: have a play around and find what works for your business.
Meetings are a big drain on time and energy: they often result in a few people communicating a little too much, and everyone else switching off. Try instead the practice of stand-up meetings. Made popular by software developers who follow the agile development process, stand-up meetings are meant to prevent pontificating and get people fired up and up-to date on the project's progress.
As this Wall Street Journal article points out, such meetings can often be a mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime, but the key is for everyone to update each other on three things: what they have done since yesterday's meeting; what they are doing today; and any obstacles that stand in the way of getting work done.
Every employee has their own concerns and distractions, such as their daughter's birthday, or their brother's graduation. They're worried about that meal they still haven't claimed for on expenses or the fact their chair is ruining their posture. All of these little worries accumulate, unbeknownst to the rest of the team, and create tensions and friction that gets transferred to the work at hand.
Again digital tools offer a reprieve. Turbine, for example, lets employees book holidays, claim expenses and make purchase order requests all from a simple website portal. Make work as seamless as you can for your employees, and communication will be calmer and clearer as a result.
The social aspect of work matters, especially when it comes to communication and teamwork. Whether you manage remote workers, or everyone is under each other's feet in a single office, it's important to make time for employees to socialise outside of their duties.
37 Signals has several remote workers and teams. They all get together twice a year, but, as a recent post points out, they feel more like reunions than meetups. Work gets done and projects get discussed, but not at the expense of allowing colleagues to relax, enjoy and be inspired by each others' company.