By Tom Whitaker, Harness and RT3 Board Member.
Since it came of age in the mid-1990’s, email has been the most heavily used communications tool in business. Over 269 BILLION emails are sent and received worldwide each day and the average office worker receives somewhere around 121 emails per day. Emails were useful because they allow for (usually) short concise exchanges with co-workers, clients, and more. But is email still the best method for all types of communication? Might there be better tools out there? Finally, what would be the advantages for construction companies in particular that choose those different tools?
The average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal emails which add no value to the business.
Do a quick scan of your inbox. How many of your email messages are conversations amongst your team? How many of them are communications with outsiders like suppliers or clients? Independent research by Atos Origin highlighted that the average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal emails which add no value to the business. In short, your employees might only start working on anything of value from Wednesday each week. US-based studies by Siemens Group point to the value of this “lost” time. They estimated that a company with 100 employees loses the equivalent of $528,443 each year.
Organizations with effective communication are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.
Since email is the primary communications tool for most companies, if a company has a problem keeping workers engaged, they MUST consider that the method of their communications could be a contributing factor. A lack of engagement certainly seems to be a factor. According to a 2015 Gallup study, only 32% of US employees feel engaged with their companies. This disengagement leads to poor productivity, high turnover, and what could be aptly described as a negative company culture. A separate study found that moving a “disengaged” employee over to “engaged” could add over $13,000 in value to your company. In the construction sector, where labor shortages are rampant, the need to keep workers engaged is even more important. Companies must strive to improve communication if they want to attract & retain engaged workers. And it’s not even just about engagement. Organizations with effective communication are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.
In 2013, a small Vancouver, Canada based company called Tiny Speck decided to stop development on a failed online video game and instead launch an innovative chat-based communications tool they had built to facilitate communications between their Canadian & US teams. Called, “Slack” as an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversation & Knowledge”, the service grew to become one of the fastest growing products in the history of software. Slack is now in use by over 8 million people every day.
“The world is in the very early stages of a 100-year shift in how people communicate, and we’re determined to push the boundaries,” said their founder & CEO, Steward Butterfield.
Slack is a cloud-based communication tool so it works on all types of devices and allows teams to communicate with each other by sending short messages to the whole team, subsets of the team, or individuals. Over the past few years, messages have become much richer than just text and Slack is now used to exchange documents, images, and other information seamlessly.
Teams across the world have found that Slack helps them:
At Harness, we use Slack to focus our internal communications around “channels,” a core feature of Slack. For instance, we have a channel for discussions between our development team, a channel for marketing, and a channel to collaborate on customer issues. We even have a channel where we post our latest sales wins. Channels can be either public, meaning they’re available to anyone in your organization or they can be private. Generally though, Slack works best when the majority of communication happens in public. Channels all have one thing in common; they contain the entire message history of the group in a searchable archive. This means, for example, that any new member of our “development” channel could get insights from past discussions or search to find a specific topic of discussion without having to ask a colleague. When a more specific conversation is needed, team members can direct message each other, start a video chat, or connect via phone right from within the app.
Slack integrates with nearly everything which makes it even more valuable. For example, our “new-deals” channel at Harness is populated with messages automatically whenever our CRM system records a won opportunity. Sharing good news has never been easier.
Slack’s early adopters included digital agencies, software companies, and other “high-tech” industries but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a great tool for construction companies. How many of your company’s internal discussions revolve around individual projects? If you use Slack, each project could have its own “channel”. All discussions for that project now have a central location accessible to anyone on your team. Things you might put into Slack could include:
· Change order details & approvals
· Daily progress photos
· Copies of submittals, plans, or other documents
· Production issues that need resolving with input from others
Slack makes sure these conversations are easy to have and that each team member is aware of the outcome. No need to worry about not including someone on an email chain. The fact that some of your team will be in the field and some others in the office doesn’t mean sacrificing quality of communication.
Let’s say that there needs to be a heavy discussion surrounding an issue that could cause significant delays or cost increases on a project. The foreman on site could initiate a video chat that could include the project manager, superintendent, or even the owner. Each of those team members could be in a different location. The details of the discussion could be recorded and posted in that projects Slack channel so that it could be referred back to later by anyone who wasn’t on the initial call.
Oh Yeah…It’s FREE!!
Probably the greatest thing about Slack is that you can start using it for free. Unlike some “free” products, you’ll get all the features that you need to experience the power of Slack. When you’re ready the paid plans start at $6.67 per user per month. With those plans, you get a longer searchable history and some more integration options, along with the group calling & screen sharing. Slack is definitely worth it in my opinion. But I’m not the only one that feels that way…
Construction companies are made up of teams in the same way as tech companies like Harness. So why can’t we use the same tools for internal communications? Better employee engagement, more complete communications, better productivity. These are some of the many reasons why break up with email and try Slack.
You can create a free account at www.Slack.com.