Organizations with effective internal communication practices are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their peers, according to a Towers Watson report. Communication helps managers at these organizations understand what motivates their employees and impart the agency’s vision to them. When employees feel understood and inspired, they perform better.
Although most agencies are non-profit organizations, the same business principles apply. Strong communication can increase an agency’s staff engagement levels, thereby improving the quality of care the clients receive.
Why Effective Communication is Important
It builds great teams. Unlike traditional businesses, agency staff do not always work side-by-side. Many work in scattered locations throughout the community, such as client homes, day programs, or residential facilities. Those who work exclusively in remote locations can feel disconnected from the agency, as if they work alone. Regular communication is critical for reminding these staff members that they are part of a team striving for the same goal.
It boosts productivity. The better your communication, the less time you spend resolving conflicts and sorting out misunderstandings. You and your staff can focus more of your time doing meaningful work. Furthermore, staff can start each day confident they know what they are doing and how it contributes to the agency’s mission.
It increases retention. Engaged employees are happy employees. And one of the best ways to improve engagement is to facilitate communication. Effective communication is the cornerstone of a positive work environment that motivates employees.
Tips for Improving Communication in Your Agency
Our standards for communication have drastically changed over the past few years. We expect quick responses at our fingertips regardless of the time of day. We even prefer the speed and convenience of text messages over phone calls. How can agencies keep up with the demand for constant communication?
Designate a secure platform for work-related communication. This will help you prioritize important conversations over unrelated personal communications. You don’t want important messages from your staff to get lost in the shuffle of text messages from friends. Also, your organization’s messaging platform should be accessible by any internet-enabled device so everyone is connected on-the-go. (Note: Don’t forget to make sure your platform is HIPAA compliant!)
Wondering whether email accounts will do the trick? Unfortunately, email can be expensive (more on that later) and rather inconvenient on the administrative side. Since turnover is so high in this industry, providers could spend a lot of time setting up new email accounts, removing old ones, and updating contact lists. Furthermore, email is very difficult to audit and relies too much on user capabilities for HIPAA compliance.
Encourage conversations. While client care is always first priority, relationship-building between staff members does not necessarily detract from that. In fact, it improves morale which directly affects quality of work. Encourage employees to interact with one another, ask each other questions, and compare experiences. A messaging platform can be a great place for this.
Segment your audience. Avoid sending emails to the entire organization if they only address a small segment. Otherwise, people will start to tune you out. Need to send a message to those working at a particular location? Rather than shuffling through the schedule to find the names, try using a messaging application that finds those people for you based on your criteria. For example, you can alert everyone who works in a specific program or a particular group home about new procedures that affect them by selecting that program, instead of talking to everyone individually. This ensures that each message goes to the right people, while saving you time.
Why Use Agency-Specific Communication Software?
HIPAA compliance. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets restrictions for handling and discussing client information. Your organization may be well-trained in HIPAA compliance, but are your software vendors trained the same way? If you use general-purpose software: probably not. This leaves your agency open to risk. On the other hand, an agency-specific vendor will design its product and policies according to HIPAA standards.
Audit trails and detailed reports. Unlike emails, texts, or phone calls, communication software maintains an audit trail for you. You can easily run reports to see all supply requests, incident write-ups, requisitions, and other communication types sorted by employee or job. You never need to fear losing an incident report or any other type of communication.
Fewer expenses. Agency-specific communication software is often less expensive than a professional email account. On average, organizations can expect to pay at least $5/month per person for email addresses. But communication software, which is different from email, can cost just a fraction of that amount. Moreover, your employees can be automatically enrolled upon hire and removed upon termination – no pesky list management necessary!
Why not use a free email provider like Gmail, you may ask? While cost is no concern with free email accounts, they simply don’t have any of the required features to manage inter-organizational communication. For example:
- They aren’t HIPAA compliant
- They are cumbersome to manage
- They do not capture the location of the sender
- Their use cannot be restricted
Improved client care. Most importantly, communication software improves the quality of client care. For example, when a client’s situation changes (new medication, checked into the hospital, gone for the weekend with family, etc.), some managers have to sort through records to figure out which staff members work with that client before sending a message. They could easily miss someone, and the client’s care would suffer. But with communication software, the manager can simply select the client name to send a message to all who work with the client.
Want clients, guardians, families, or vendors to be part of the conversation? Don’t worry, you can give them access to your internal communication system! Just make sure you set strict controls so they can only converse with approved members. If necessary, you can also control employees’ messaging capabilities.
In today’s fast-paced world, communication plays an essential role in our personal and working lives. For agencies, the right communications platform will connect managers, DSPs, and administration in a secure, HIPAA-compliant way. Bonus features such as the ability to attach pictures to messages, generate reports, and customize recipient groups allows managers to verify that important information has been delivered to the correct individuals. When everyone in the organization is engaged and connected to one another, it results in higher employee retention rates and improved services for their clients in its care.