All business owners tend to think of their business as if it was their baby, and each new branch office they open is like a newborn child brought into the family. As they grow, even with the same name, culture and values you instilled in them, they begin to develop differences you would have never imagined.
Some of those “kids” produce great results and clearly have a bright future; some turn into quirky lunatics who find their way even though you don’t quite get it; and some… well, let’s just say you’re still grateful for having them.
But they’re all yours, and their problems are your problems too.
Of course, branch offices aren’t people – they are business units and you could have ten, 100 or even 1,000 to manage; and you aren’t a loving parent guided by emotions, but a logical and result-driven strategist with vision and reason.
Your task is to make each cog work as planned in order to keep the machinery moving forward – to implement a cohesive business strategy which will be achieved in a timely manner with a fair contribution from each business unit. Another option is installing an employee tracking software, but we’ll talk about that in one of the challenges.
This is easier said than done. In theory, there are many things that may go wrong, and in reality, thousands of them actually do. None of the stakeholders, including you, your managers, employees and customers want that. Therefore, it’s up to you to figure out how to overcome all the difficulties and make your business grow.
Many of our clients have branch offices, so we talked to them and realized that their biggest issues can be sorted into several categories. The good news is that clever tech people of the world have already recognized this, so they created various tools to help business owners. After reading this article, you need to decide which of these challenges is the most important for you, and try implementing the solutions we offer.
Challenge 1: Important Information Don’t Reach Everyone
When you open a new branch office, it’s imperative everyone’s on the same page. People have been using emails for years in order to share information throughout the company. However, this solution is far from being the most efficient fix for the communication challenge.
Of course, sending an email to one person in the officer is the most reliable way of ensuring you’ll receive a reply. Yet, when it comes to addressing multiple participants – and getting their feedback – this can turn into a nightmare.
First of all, you might forget to Cc someone. Even worse, you might Cc instead of Bcc someone else. And the absolute worst, your employees might hit Reply to all once or twice with a casual informational note to 125 participants and interrupt the workflow of your entire organization.
Luckily, in 2013 several guys grew tired of this and created Slack. There’s a good chance you’re already using it. And if you aren’t, chances that you don’t know what it is are minimal.
Slack is a cloud-based communication platform which you can use on your computer, web browser or mobile phone. Basically, it’s a group chat for businesses. Besides Slack, there are other chat-like tools you can use to speed up the communication with the company. Some of the popular options include Google Hangouts and Skype for Business.
Challenge 2: Branches Don’t Communicate with Each Other Effectively
This is an unavoidable quirk in any organization with “headquarters” or a “main office.” Usually, any information is sent to the HQ, and branch managers expect that this information will be forwarded to the appropriate branch. Now the message is spiraling around offices until it finds the intended recipient - probably too late.
Another thing that usually happens is information clutter. In this case, branch managers keep receiving updates from other branches which are absolutely unnecessary, and soon enough they’re swimming in emails.
There are numerous sharing tools in the market, designed for employees across teams and branch offices to easily and efficiently report, inform, and give and receive feedback. Let’s see which options are the most popular.
Trello is a well-known collaborative tool that organizes project workflow through Kanban boards. It gives an excellent overview of tasks, and provides a clean place for updates, feedback and any other information that is related to the said project.
AtlassianConfluence is pretty much the same, except that it has a more flexible pricing strategy that might fit you better than Trello’s. It also has an option of hosting data on your own servers, if that’s what you prefer.
Weekdone is another project management collaboration tool, but this one is designed for more centrally-controlled activities. It’s best for week-to-week planning and managing, which makes it good for small projects.
Challenge 3: You Aren’t Sufficiently Aware of the Current Activities in Branch Offices
Now this is a vital issue, especially for physically remote offices that are hard to keep an eye on. Just as it is important for the information to reach all the way down to the bottom of the hierarchy, it is also crucial for it to go back up as well.
Most large companies struggle with this, even within the same building, and it gets exponentially messier as the number of offices grows, especially if they are located further away. Depending on the type of data you want to get to, you can resolve this issue by using one of the tools below.
Turbine is a web-based tool that replaces almost all the paperwork in offices. It provides all the information about purchase orders, employee expenses, and even lets you know who’s absent from work and why. It can also be used via a smartphone app, which is quite handy when you’re on a business trip.
Workpuls is a time and project tracking tool which automatically tracks on which project each employee is working on, how much time did each task require, as well as how different apps and websites were used. Besides, you can see who is actively working in real time, in which program or website, and for how long. It also shows the data for each employee or team, which is useful for creating productivity reports and spotting trends, or identifying the source of problems when it comes to underperformance in certain branch(es). Additionally, it can capture random screenshots, if that’s your thing, or serve as a tool for tracking attendance and calculating the payroll. Moreover, you can also use Workpuls as a remote employee time tracking and remote employee monitoring software.
15Five is a performance management software. Through it employees can provide feedback by answering the questions on anything from personal productivity to the team morale in approximately 15 minutes, which can then be read and answered by managers in no more than five. The best thing is that the reports can be submitted to anyone in upper level management, so that really important issues can receive the needed attention and reaction within a reasonable time. It can also be used by HR, to give appraisals or gain better insights into office matters, and consequently reduce employee turnover.
Challenge 4: Meetings are costly and take up too much time and energy
The solution to this one is quite simple, really – video conferences and virtual meetings.
It might seem that it’s easier to have everything under control when you’re physically present in all places. Truth be told, it probably is. However, it’s time consuming and very costly to travel from one office to another, trying to have everything under control.
By organizing video conferences with your teams through tools like Zoom, WebEx and Adobe Connect, to name a few. There are tons of different alternatives, and you should do a bit of research and you’ll find a number of tools which are fitting for the organization of your size and type.
Challenge 5: Kids Are Getting Jealous
You know what I’m talking about – a healthy dose of competition is always welcome, but people have this weird trait of tribalism that tells us that we are better than them, even when “them” means Lisa, Jack, Patrick and Sofia from the third floor. In other words, we tend to dislike other groups just because we don’t perceive them as our own; which is bad, because you really want all your employees to see themselves as a part of the same entity.
The bad news is, they won’t. However, the good news is that you can help them to make it happen.
To get people to cooperate and perceive others as part of their team, you should encourage and facilitate regular contact, and provide the means to do this. Instead of letting branch office managers have separate team building sessions for each office, arrange for one office to host a company-wide team building event.
Depending on the remoteness of the offices, it can be a one-night party, a weekend in another city, or a yearly cultural event abroad. Whatever it is, be sure to rotate the hosts periodically, and make employees stay connected via at least one Slack channel afterwards so that the memory of the experience will last longer than the memory of the costs.
This article was originally posted on November 29th, 2017. It was updated on September 20th, 2019.