This is a deep dive episode of the Tech of Business podcast. and we’re talking about internal team communication tools. This came up over the weekend in a Facebook group that I’m a part of, and I decided to jostle the release schedule around to share this information today.
The question that was posed in the Facebook group revolved around internal communication and collaboration tools. Some that were mentioned include Slack, Trello, Asana, Google Docs Voxer and Email and Facebook Messenger. That’s a lot of tools, and in this episode, I’m going to share my thoughts on how to best select and utilize internal team tools.
First up, I would like to convince you that email is never the right tool for internal communications. Even the big companies use other chat or messenger tools over clogging up inboxes.
I think that email is a necessary evil. It has become for many of us a dumping ground for promotions from other entrepreneurs and businesses, automated updates from service providers and social media and project management tools, and calendar reminders and so much more. The best way to run an email inbox is to have a lot of structure and rules around it – I firmly believe that it’s not the place where team communication and tracking should reside.
There, we got that out of the way.
Now, that that’s done, there are several facets to the original question that we need to disentangle.
A team, regardless of shape or size needs to have a place to:
- Run client and internal projects
- Easily chat with other team members
- Understand where to store, retrieve and search company documents
For storing, retrieving and searching company documents, I’d encourage you to go back to Episode 11 in which we discussed Cloud Storage.
In that episode I explained the benefits of using cloud storage in business and some of the best ways to structure your content. Let’s go into a bit more detail on the content as it pertains to internal team documents.
These documents may include your operations manual, checklists, guides, timecards, company policy and so on. While other documents will be templates and outlines that will be completed during the course of business, working with clients.
Files that are reference only, should be stored as read-only to avoid accidental modifications. For my own sake, I keep a working copy of these documents locally on my computer, but you could use an alternate cloud storage location. This way, the only time that I’m touching the master document is to replace it with a more updated version.
Now, files that will be the starting point of a new client onboarding or new project may vary substantially based on the type of business that you have. For these files, I recommend having read only templates available and a procedure for setting up shared files for client projects. As the business owner, it’s up to you to figure out what set of these files need to be stored for the team and which ones are only needed for the team member responsible.
These two forms of internal documentation go hand in hand – policies and procedures are set in place so that the relevant team member or members knows how to do the job according to specification and templates, including fillable workflows and checklists, complete the consistency circle. Everyone is working from the same rules and we, as the entrepreneur or business owner is easily able to maintain a grasp on the files that are in use.
If your business is like mine, you may also have files, processes and procedures that you want to make available to your clients as you work through the project together. Those files are best to be shared inside your project management tool of choice… so let’s talk about project tracking and project management tools.
The two most common free options for project management are Trello and Asana.
Your chosen project management tool will be where a project actually lives. Inside here you’ll be able to list off a series of steps that need to be performed, assign the task to a team member and have conversation about the progress of each step or task directly inside the task manager.
There are a ton of ways to setup project management tools. Some projects may only be done once while others could be completed on a quarterly, monthly or daily basis. And still others will include client interaction and involvement.
I have found the best way to use any project management tool is to, just like with files, create templates which can be mirrored for each instance or cycle.
Don’t let the idea of creating templates scare you – the way I generally do this is to run the process through on a live project and then once it’s complete, mirror it and generalize it. This way you’re cutting down on the setup and giving yourself a framework for building out your project management.
Once a project or board or task is mirrored it can then be assigned to a team member, given a completion date and personalized for the specific project with client-specific information.
I am inside my project management tools on a daily basis communicating with my team and with my clients. I love that we can have simultaneous conversations relating to different tasks. Let’s say that you and I are building out a Thinkific-based membership site together. We could be talking about the color scheme on one task and the landing page layout on another and yet another task could be discussing the member dashboard. These would be three separate conversations between the same parties, yet each one stands alone… when one of them is complete, we don’t need to circle back on that topic, the back and forth progress of that task doesn’t get mixed in with other conversations relating to other parts of the project. And everything sits in a nice tidy box…
Or so we wish… it’s very difficult for our brains to compartmentalize conversations to the task at hand. So instead of flipping to the relevant task someone will undoubtably write a comment, share insight or ask a question on the wrong thread or task… It takes more time and energy to post those thought fragments in tiny sections across the multitude of tasks and slowly, if not nipped in the bud, managing the project becomes a nightmare.
The best way I’ve found for nipping something like this in the bud is to take the comment that was written in the wrong place and copy it to the correct place and then reply to it there. And doing this without making any mention of it on the original or wrong thread… because any additional off-topic content on that thread negates the corrective action.
To put it simply – as the entrepreneur or business owner, it’s our responsibility to adhere to our systems and processes. Lead by example, don’t make an example out of people.
Well then, you might be wondering “Jaime, where then is the best place to have conversations regarding content posted in the wrong thread or otherwise interact outside of the tasks at hand?”
And that my friend is through another tool, which allows asynchronous communication. This can be with Voxer or Facebook Messenger or Slack.
While I don’t personally recommend text message for asynchronous communication, that might also be the right tool for you. I would stay away from Facebook Messenger for team communication because it will help you stay off Facebook during work sessions and while I love Voxer for quick voice memos, I recommend trying Slack for your async communication.
The type of content that is best suited for Slack are quick check ins, decision making updates, inquiries on availability, SOS type urgent outreach and potentially a space to brain dump future projects or do a stream of consciousness rambling surrounding an activity in a current project.
And just like with cloud storage and project management, async communication tools can get disorganized and scattered if there aren’t systems and processes to pull them together.
Structure seems to really be the subtheme for today’s episode!
We talked about structure for file storage, let’s now talk about structure as it pertains to Slack… The first step with Slack is to setup your team workspace. Inside the workspace there are public and private channels and the ability to direct message other workspace members.
Your workspace is created with two channels: general and random as well as a direct message agent called slackbot. From there, I generally create a public channel for each client. I believe this is better than one for each project, because even if you’re working on several projects for the same client, the conversation about the client is generally independent of the project or task at hand – and any communication that is directly related to a project or task belongs in the project management tool not Slack.
I also create channels for company announcements, suggestions, help desk and so on. Each channel and direct message thread is a continuous stream of messages which can include attachments.
The distinct advantage of Slack sitting outside of project management is that it helps move through projects or internal tasks without each message being tied to a specific deliverable.
On the other hand, sometimes conversations in Slack need to be tied to a specific task and then it becomes a matter of moving the conversation back from Slack into Trello or Asana.
This doesn’t need to be automatic… I recommend simply noting that it needs to be moved by using hashtags at the point where the move needs to take place. The tag I use is #transfer and then list the project that it needs to be transferred to.
Then once a week or according to your needs and schedule, go back through Slack and copy the necessary text over!
My top tips for Slack are:
- Use a separate channel for each client not each project
- Create a culture of consistency and required check ins
- Use tags to help with searching through the streams
We’ve already covered a lot in this episode let’s recap what we have discussed so far.
Internal team communication requires structure, systems and processes. Each member of the team should be provided with the best chance for success by understanding how and when to use each tool. The file structure in Google Drive is for templates, guides and manuals. The boards in Trello or projects in Asana are for client and internal projects and consist of tasks with due dates and deliverables. The channels in Slack are for dialog and check ins.
This is all quite theoretical in nature, so let’s dig into a real example – this podcast.
Each week a new podcast is released. It’s a recurring project for me and my team.
The first step of each podcast episode is either scheduling an interview or deciding on the topic for a deep dive session. As soon as that step is initiated, our template for podcast production is used.
Inside the template is each step that needs to be taken to get a podcast episode released. These include record the episode, create artwork, write show notes, edit episode, create mp3 file, upload to libsyn and so on. Files associated with the episode are uploaded into the project management tool, not into Google Drive – because they are specific to that project. However, the podcast intro, outro and interlude music sits in Google Drive since those are team resource files.
Each task is assigned a due date, based on the order in which it needs to be completed so that we release on time.
Most communication for the podcast release occurs on the tasks and we rarely need to use Slack. But the types of things that come up in Slack are suggestions for changing the sequence of episodes since that is outside of the podcast episode release and thoughts on episode takeaways during editing, since Slack is a faster means of communication for our team.
You could take this general idea from podcast releases and apply it to internal projects in your business such as sending your weekly emails, publishing blog posts, creating YouTube videos or getting the content ready for a Facebook Live.
Even if your team is only you and one other part time virtual assistant, creating a foundation of how and where and when to communicate will begin to build team culture, develop realistic expectations, empower your team members and give framework for growth.
Thank you for hanging out with me today for this deep dive episode on the Tech of Business podcast. I have loved sharing about internal team communication. I would encourage you to sign up for a Slack workspace today and start building consistent communication channels.
Inviting tech to the table is powerful and you don’t need to do it alone. I’m here to help you make the process easier and efficient. Book a tech strategy session. We’ll get on a call together and setup your internal communication tools and create a structure that is exactly right for you and your business!