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Staff in smaller businesses bogged down by poor communications

Inadequate communications between senior management and staff in small to medium-sized enterprises is leading to poor decision-making

A YouGov poll of 1,007 small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) leaders and 1,012 non-managerial UK staff for Microsoft has found that employees are stressed about poor communications.

When asked to rank causes of stress at work, 34% SME employees place poor communication as their top concern. Almost a third (29%) said they were stressed by a lack of organisation-wide communication, while just under a quarter (23%) said that poor work-life balance is their biggest source of stress.

The survey, for Microsoft’s Driving growth in small businesses study, found that a lack of effective communication between staff and business leaders in SMEs is leading 45% of employees to make decisions at work without the information they need.

Nick Hedderman, director of modern workplace business group at Microsoft UK, said: “I’d recommend for SME leaders – especially at the director level – to make sure they’re seen and heard, while making sure they are listening to all their teams and proactively connecting them.

“For example, it’s crucial for small businesses to get their product development, marketing and sales teams all talking and working together. Even just a 30-minute creative session on a Monday or Friday morning to keep the conversation going between different departments can make a huge difference.

“You can’t drive this if you’re offsite all the time, and people won’t meet up just because you emailed and asked them to.”

The study found that when asked what methods of communication they use on a daily basis, 74% of staff put face-to-face engagement top, followed by email at 69%, and phone calls at 55%. However, only 19% of staff use collaboration tools as part of their job.

According to Microsoft, 60% of UK workers blame excessive emails for getting in the way of their work, which it said means that the lack of adoption of collaboration tools is a significant missed opportunity.

When asked about the effectiveness of work communications, 42% of staff describe communications among colleagues in their workplace as sociable, while a fifth said communications is unproductive

The report recommended that SME leaders ensure they provide the right mix of communications channels and opportunities to encourage meaningful collaboration. This is because of the finding that many of today’s small business employees don’t feel their current culture is supporting meaningful collaboration as well as it could.

For instance, Josh Clarke, director of coffee for Clifton Coffee Roaster, which is featured in the report, said: “In a small business, it’s all too easy to stop proactively communicating when things get busy – a good problem to have, but an important one to solve.

“We’ve gone from a small team of six of us, to a company of 29 employees spread across the country, so maintaining the ability to communicate effectively and transparently is key to helping support our unique working culture – something that we find makes the business more attractive to the team.”

Microsoft recommended that SME leaders think about what makes their business different, as a service and as an employer. It urged managers to articulate this message, discuss it, amend it, and share it, and do the same for the business’ goals.

It also suggested that business leaders in SMEs should strive to make their organisations’ decision-making as transparent as possible, which it said was an essential quality of a healthy workplace.

“Be as clear and honest as you possibly can and follow up in-person communications with digital communications, giving staff the time and space to digest and reflect,” the report concluded.

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