PositivePeople July 22, 2013 No Comments

E-Worries

Is your Company reputation being “twittered” away??

Communication is one of the fundamentals of business and with new ways of communicating being launched all the time and without some guidance from employers it is difficult to ensure your staff know what is appropriate.

In the days before the internet the saying was that “a happy person will tell 1 person about their experience, an unhappy one 8-16 people”. These days a happy person will still only tell one person but an unhappy one can complain to the world via the web. An unhappy employee who has had a bad day, or a run in with a customer or a colleague or supervisor at work can go home, jump on the internet or their phone and publicise their woes to the world A company relies on their reputation and a rant from an unhappy staff member can do just as much, if not more, damage as an unhappy customer.

The nature of communication has changed, and will continue changing at pace as technology continues to dominate the way we interact, both socially and in the workplace. With these changes comes a whole raft of new challenges, as traditional methods of communication, where you can judge meanings from tone, body language and the subtle nuances of speech, change to interpreting the meaning behind emails, and learning to read between the lines of the written word or decipher a message in text language.

As an HR professional it amazes me how many Facebook friend requests I get from staff I work with, and again it amazes me how often they have no filter on what they post. More than once I have been amused at the picture of baking from the staff working from home, who wanted “uninterrupted time to make real progress on an issue”, or I have been worried at the post from someone who “hates their boss today” when I know they are both sitting about 6 feet away from me and are talking politely. (Yes, that comment outs me. I have been known to check my Facebook page at the office.)

The Department of Labour first began warning employers about the dangers of social media in a press release in 2011, where they cited several cases which had come before the Employment Relations Authority (http://www.dol.govt.nz/er/services/law/case/themes/2011-10-social-media.asp). 

But it seems few employers have listened and acted to educate staff around these risks, and even fewer employees have heeded their words, as the number of complaints the authority hears concerning social media grows.

And emails…..haven’t we all heard of the perils of wrong email addresses as we see ACC, EQC and CYF’s all take the top story on the 6pm news due to easy email errors. I’d like to bet that in today’s world of constant technology there aren’t many people who haven’t sent a text or email to the wrong person. I’d also bet that most people have sent off a quick reply to a text or email, and then realised they had a typo…or changed their mind about the content which may have been sent in the heat of the moment and on reflection may not have been the smartest email to send . We can all just be glad our mistakes didn’t make headline news, otherwise these minor errors may not seem so small.

With the constant stream of information we are easily able to disseminate or receive in various online forms at almost any given time, this changes the way we do business, and has consequences for the way that we must manage our teams. Information which is confidential, inaccurate or damaging to your business can easily end up in the wrong hands, or on some website for the world to see, which is then impossible to take down. The long term impact this can have on the credibility of your Company and its reputation in the market means that this is quickly becoming a real issue which every business must address.

So what to do about this? A policy helps set up the standards and expectations, and is an essential tool in managing e-communication. However, policies that ban social media or stringently manage email content have limited benefit, and can also can inhibit innovation and empowerment, as staff feel they are not trusted with information.

The way forward to protect your Company and also harness the positive power these mediums can bring is to educate your team members as to the potential pitfalls of online communication, and make sure they understand the associated risks.

E–Solutions

We suggest:

1. Having a clear online communication policy which is supported by a training session as part of staff induction. Understanding why things are in place, and what the repercussions are of potential actions will increase the chances of your team doing the right thing when communicating online

2. Educate your team to turn off their auto populate function in the email address bar. In this way staff can be doubly sure emails go where they are supposed to

3. Encourage the team to use social media to promote the business. If they all “like” the Company page and share your updates with their friends it is good for marketing, and helps to ensure the right messages are being shared

4. Ask your team to only respond to emails from their desktop (or laptop) computer. If it’s urgent people will call, so emails don’t need to be responded to overnight or during the weekend. This minimises the chance of mistakes, and helps with the stress levels as team members get to enjoy their rest times properly

5. Provide guidelines on the correct language to be used in each communication medium. Text language is becoming the norm so understanding what is appropriate for emails, proposals and other forms of written communication, and why, is important. This will be new to some of your team

6. Encourage face to face communication where possible. Conversation may be a dying art but it still provides an effective method for making decisions and solving problems. So if you see your team emailing across the office encourage them to get up and go and talk through their questions instead.

7. Finally, make sure all your team are confident using online communication tools and embrace it. Utilising good online communication channels can be more efficient for your business, encourage information sharing and bring the team together. Ask for ideas, you never know what improvements you could see.

The way we do business is changing, and so too are the communications challenges facing our teams. We believe it is worth taking the time to assess what you do in this space and make sure you do it correctly, so that you don’t get left behind…or caught short… because if you do, it could be you in the newspaper or on Facebook.