Industrial Communication Now and into the Future
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published April 08, 2021
Sharing information within and outside of the business environment is a crucial part of the industrial community toolbox. Internal and external communications can take on many forms. Michael Womack of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) leads the discussion on the tools and tips of effective industrial communication for this week’s #USAMfgHour chat on Twitter.
There are many effective ways people can engage in an industrial environment. How many can different industrial communication methods can you name? What are some strategies manufacturers use to communicate in an industrial environment?
“Email, Phone, Social Media, Newsletter, white papers,” said Shannon Simpson of DuraTech.
“If individual means face-to-face, it used to be salespeople doing calls and appointments and tradeshows. Now, it's mainly email, phone, and LinkedIn,” said Gina Tabasso of Dar-Tech.
“Face-to-face, email, text, phone call, social media, letter, shouting across the office, etc. Those are some that I think of in terms of general communication that I can think of,” said Ben Nordman of Obsidian Manufacturing.
“Strategies had to shift, away from individual person-to-person interaction and shifted to a virtual setting,” Womack said of the past year for business and individuals throughout the world. “Much more challenging to engage, but it seems the industry is becoming more accustomed to the change.”
The list goes on! These are only a few examples of unique forms of industrial communication.
- Industrial floor graphics
- Written Memos and emails
- Verbal management to team/employee to employee
- Educational/instructional/training/professional development
- Legacy knowledge ERP, SRM, etc.
There are limitless ways an organization can communicate in an individual environment, he said. “Keeping the communication informative and engaging will be key to ensuring all important updates are seen by an entire team and organization.”
Unfortunately, this past year taught the manufacturing industry a lot about communication in an uncertain environment. How did your organization remain agile?
“We had to embrace tech for communication and sales,” said JD Allen of Cleveland Deburring Machine Company. “Much more so than in the past. But of course, so did the whole industry. Being a small family-owned operation helped with getting everyone on board.”
“Group texts, zoom, and even (shh) old-fashioned phone calls helped internal communication. Social was a big part of external communications,” said Noah Katzenstein of Artus Corporation.
“Our company is small (20 people); so, usually my boss will text or email me. We have weekly in-person meetings and use Teams,” said Dar-Tech.
“We have personal email addresses to all Team Members, we have an online Intranet, we have done in-person meetings when necessary,” said DuraTech. “We may post things on Facebook too. I should say, our Intranet can be accessed outside our organization and is just for team members. It can be downloaded as an app for their phones too, where team members can retrieve company information and personal timekeeping and payroll info.”
“Mostly Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, emails, and a great content management/project management system,” said Christine Torres of Graphic Products. “We all communicate our daily, weekly, monthly plans and align them with overall goals.”
“Everyone has access to internal/external phone numbers of employees and emails to communicate,” said Sherri Darby of WiscoLift. “We had our office #'s forwarded to our cell #'s when working from home.”
“Striven has real-time communication So if there was a discussion regarding an order or project, all conversations and information concerning that job would be kept neatly together in the Striven system. And it's easily searchable if needed to be referenced quickly,” said Julianne Schaub of Striven Software.
“We use Teams for virtual meetings,” said Sue Nordman of Obsidian. “I will send texts and emails to employees regarding closings, changes, etc. Technology is a necessity for this type of communication!”
“Not only is a plan important, having a workforce that understands that plan and is ready to act, is just as important,” Womack said. “Has the pandemic encouraged your organization to invest in an emergency plan? Having a plan in place is incredibly helpful. Ensuring the organization is trained to enact this plan is essential. Without a plan and an organization ready to act on that plan, an emergency like COVID-19 can spell disaster. Manufacturers are constantly working to avoid downtime. There’s no better way to mitigate the impact of a natural disaster than to pre-plan your emergency communication strategy.”
There are so many amazing ways to engage and communicate! The options are truly limitless. For example, Womack said, NJMEP worked with @Clarityexp, who introduced them to @Bizzabo for some of the events!
Are you utilizing any new communication tech, strategies, or techniques since COVID disrupted normal business operations?
“We tried doing Sales meetings outside and on Microsoft Teams, but found it was easiest just to have people call in via conference call if not in the office,” said WiscoLift. “I think some of us Baby Boomers prefer to do things the old-fashioned way.”
“Thankfully Striven made the transition to WFH easy for our customers and our own office,” said Striven. “Since then, we prioritized adding the features our customers needed as work shifted. Video chat did help immensely with day-to-day communication and morale.”
“We were not very virtual, as far as meetings, before the pandemic,” said Sue Nordman. “I guess it's one good thing that came out of it. It forced us to expand our boundaries, look outside of the box and adapt to get our jobs done!”
“We have been doing more virtual sales via Zoom or Microsoft Teams,” said DuraTech. “Our sales dept. has access to a video/documentation software called Debut Software where they can record a video and send it to customers or prospects. We hosted two webinars in 2020. Plan to do more virtual events.”
“Yes, Teams, more digital marketing, trade publications, social media,” said Dar-Tech. “We want to get in the webinar game but hard to coordinate with our suppliers and also $$$ to promote.”
“Without a doubt, we are using some new ways to engage and communicate,” said Paul Kiesche of Aviate Creative. “Zoom and other virtual meeting apps were the big change and now Clubhouse.”
“Not really. Simply making the best use of options that existed pre-insanity,” said Cleveland Deburring.
“A great example of continuous improvement,” Womack said of Cleveland Deburring’s method. “The technologies already existed but the pandemic helped push manufacturers to utilize the technologies more effectively.”
“In the past year, we’ve started utilizing social media and zoom to communicate better. We also launched our website for e-commerce purposes,” said Artus.
“I got me a camera on my computer now,” said Nick Rivers of Obsidian.
“It sounds simple, but if you weren't utilizing video calls before the pandemic, there was little need for a computer camera. Amazing how such a small piece of technology can help contribute to improving communication,” Womack said.
“We're mainly using email and the ever-helpful Google Docs,” said Zero Surge. “Being able to share and edit information in real-time is very useful, especially when we can't all be right next to each other.”
“The team has tried to limit emails by using Slack to quickly touch base with each other. We have also created dedicated emails for support of our clients,” said John Buglino of Optessa.
There are unique ways to communicate with your team, organization, and community, said Womack. He said his team created an easy, quick, and effective way to strengthen workplace COVID-safety practices and habits through an awareness application.
“One way we are working to combat COVID fatigue is through a new partnership that allowed us to develop this web application that acts as no-cost, completely self-paced COVID awareness training,” he said. “We have been incorporating more visual elements in our internal emails like highlighted/different color font, large and bold sections, and additional images. Heavily relying on video or voice calls in all their forms.”
It can be challenging enough to keep the team informed during the pandemic, but what strategies have you used to keep clients and customers engaged? External communication can be just as important as internal communication. How have you kept clients engaged over the past year?
“The old-fashioned way,” said Cleveland Deburring. “Consistent check-in calls with our clients. And we made sure to let them know these weren't sales calls. We were calling to ensure they, their families, and business were ok and to feel free to call us if they needed to vent.”
“Nothing beats a one-to-one communication with the client, JD,” said Ruby Rusine of Social Success Marketing.
“We've engaged with our clients the same as before except that for a while they did not want us at their facility and now Service Techs need to fill out COVID forms before entering. Phone & Email works best when you can't visit in person,” said WiscoLift.
“Video content (tutorials and highlighting features of Striven) and a focus on upping our social media game has helped us immensely with keeping folks informed,” said Striven.
“Social Media! Also email newsletters, direct emails, phone calls, virtual meetings,” said Sue Nordman. “We discourage doing business via text messaging but will text directly occasionally for a quick update or non-essential communication.”
“It's wonderful to hear you're seeing more success with these communication methods,” said Womack. “As the world shifts, so too with our industrial communication methods. Keep on moving forward! We'll say it again, Continuous Improvement is key!”
“Regular check-ins, use of digital techniques such as short videos, podcasts,” said Sam Gupta of ElevatIQ.
“Short videos! Great way to disseminate important information,” said Womack. “We also just mentioned how podcasts like @MFGTalkRadio can be used to communicate with clients. Thank you for sharing, Sam!”
“Refreshed our email lists for each of our clients,” said Optessa. “We have also communicated dedicated internal resources + email addresses to ensure their message(s) reach the intended audience.”
“Awesome, we did the same thing,” said Kirsten Austin of DCSC. “We also called every single client just to see how everyone was doing when this COVID situation started.”
Everyone’s challenges and strategies will vary; however, some techniques can be universal. Use every initiative as a learning experience and continue to improve your strategies so the next engagement is better than the last, Womack said.
Communication is in a constant state of change, especially now.
- New technologies have been utilized, such as Zoom, virtual tradeshows, ERP/CRM software
- Webinars act as a substitute for most in-person training, advocacy, and industry events
- All industry-focused networking events have been modified to increase engagement in a virtual environment
- Remaining agile and flexible is key to maintaining effective client communication as the business environment remains volatile.
Delivering the Message
When every message is important, none are important. Information overload is real. How do you avoid information overload and ensure the important messages are making their way through to the workforce?
“We use company buzz to share news about the company, across divisions so general news stays there as well as in video meetings,” said Striven. “Then for specific conversations and updates, the company communicates through the Striven chat feature, linked to the tasks in question.”
“Great answers so far. I'd concur. I'd also add that when we don't get feedback, that means we're usually not providing enough info or providing too much. We have to find that happy middle place. It's not always easy, but always worth gauging,” said Rebecca Hart of Drive Source International/Dynamatic.
“First, I'm selective about what I communicate. Second, I use different methods. This time email. Next time the weekly sales meeting. After that notifying employees on LinkedIn. Or emailing my boss and letting him decide on distribution,” said Dar-Tech.
“Well said! Being selective is vital,” said Womack. “Too much information, especially when it's mixed in with frivolous updates can turn people away from actually engaging with important announcements. Sincerely appreciate how you utilize different channels as well!”
“By releasing information in a slow and steady pace,” said Manufacturing Talk Radio. “Take out the fluff and get right down to brass tacks, including too much at one time can likely confuse employees and do more harm than good.”
“We have weekly meetings in our offices to relay important/vital updates to the team,” said Optessa.
“Consistency is key! This is such an effective strategy. It gives leadership the chance to relay the most important information to the entire team. Thank you for sharing,” said Womack. “Prioritization and focus are key! Keep communication concise, relevant, and check with your teams and clients to verify the effectiveness of your strategies. Continuous improvement is critical!”
Prioritize information, he said. If information is only relevant to a specific team, avoid blanketing the entire organization with that announcement. Use different means of communication: video, written, verbal, to keep people engaged and avoid any burnout from a particular channel.
“Trust but verify,” said Womack. “Trust your team and organization is actively reviewing company announcements but periodically verify that the information was thoroughly understood. This can be verified by having one-on-one conversations with a random team member to endure the info was disseminated effectively.”
Communication is valuable, but some strategies are more impactful than others. Why would you say concise communication is more effective than excessive, drawn-out explanations?
“Confusion is often an enemy. It creates chaos. We try to keep messages clear and concise to avoid confusion and keep questions to a minimum,” said DSI/Dynamatic.
“Like any businessperson, I have tons of emails and to-dos for work. A long, drawn-out conversation is sometimes unnecessary. It could hurt your intention,” said DCSC.
“Well, I'm a detail person so I tend to include details in my communication,” said Sue Nordman. “Sometimes, employees don't see the value in those details until it comes full circle and then they think, ‘That's why she said that!’”
“People are busy. They like bullets. Facts,” said Dar-Tech.
“Clear and concise - means you have thought it through all the way,” said Rivers. “There is a comfort level that a customer can have when most of their questions are answered in advance. If I am the professional - the customer needs to know it and feel safe.”
“Time is money,” said Optessa. “Tell me what you need and let’s move on! Save the drama for your mama!”
Safety, productivity, and efficiency can all be improved by utilizing the correct communication strategies. Industrial communication cannot be an afterthought.
“Communication facilitates a safe and productive work environment,” said Womack. “Whether a manufacturer uses a LEAN shadow board to communicate the proper location for tools or creates a disaster plan and properly trains their workforce, effective communication drives business forward.”
Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.