That deadline is tomorrow? Wait — John was supposed to be working on that!
Nothing causes your heart to drop quite like realizing a soon-to-be-due project has fallen through the cracks. That said, keeping everyone up to date is easier said than done, especially in companies where different departments work in different locations.
Multi-Location Offices: The New Normal
In today’s increasingly global world, more and more businesses are maintaining offices in several states (or even several countries). That comes with perks, such as the opportunity to transfer to another location, but it also comes with challenges. Collaboration, specifically, becomes harder in a multi-location office. Improving collaboration in a multi-location office provides a number of challenges; many of which cannot be overcome without the use of technology.
Communicating in a Multi-Location Office
Email certainly makes it easier to get important documents from one department to the next, but it’s not a perfect solution. The average office worker gets more than 120 emails every day. This makes it incredibly easy for important messages to be deleted or ignored.
Plus, in companies with more than one office, it’s not unusual for employees to travel on a regular basis. People are much less likely to check their email when they’re away – partially because it’s cumbersome to log into a business email on a mobile device, and partially because their attention is temporarily reallocated to other, more pressing tasks.
Unfortunately, just one missed deadline can make a big impact on a company.
Why Expediency Matters in the Enterprise
Here’s an example: you’ve just received a $25,000 invoice from one of your suppliers. If you’re able to pay that invoice within 10 days, you’re able to deduct 3 percent of what you owe. In this case, that’s $750.
But, before you’re able to pay that invoice:
- Someone has to retrieve it from your mailbox, open it up, put it in a pile with other invoices, and deliver it to Accounts Payable.
- Accounts Payable has to get the original purchase order from a Procurement Manager and confirm that the items were actually received.
- Accounts Payable then has to confirm that the invoice is accurate and enter that invoice into your accounts payable software.
- Because that invoice is a high-value transaction, the original AP employee has to send the invoice over to a manager for approval.
- Once the invoice has been approved, it has to be sent to another manager to have the payment scheduled and recorded.
If one employee misses an email requesting their input (or worse – has a paper document placed on their desk, where it gets buried under a pile of other documents) – that entire process can come to a stop. Let’s say Accounts Payable operates out of your New York office but has to confirm receipt with your receiving warehouse in Dallas, TX. It’s not as easy as just stopping by a colleague’s office to check on the status of the request.
Remember, in this particular example, you only have 10 days to get that invoice matched, approved, and paid (plus get that payment to the vendor). That doesn’t leave much room for error. One delay could lose you that $750 discount – and that’s not a fun conversation to have with management.
How to Improve Multi-Location Office Collaboration
So how can you make cross-office collaboration easier?
Unlock Process Automation
One way to do so is to have your documents automatically transferred from department to department. With a document management system, your employees can click a single button, and the document they’re working on is automatically routed to the next person who needs it. This can be repeated until the entire process is complete (as determined by the procedures you already have in place.)
Share a Calendar
You can also have your teams share a calendar, helping different departments see what needs to be completed and when in real-time. This is easy enough to set up in most corporate email services, like Outlook, although it’s up to each individual user to remember to check it.
Speaking of reminders: a quick notification can usually be enough to get a “forgotten” project back on track. But, someone has to send that notification, and you can’t have employees making themselves responsible for their peers’ productivity.
Manage Your Workflows With Software
This is another place where automation can come in handy. If you use a software program to manage your workflows, you may be able to set up instant notifications. For instance, if a document has been in an employee’s “to-handle” pile for a set amount of time, your software can bring it (back) to their attention.
Document and Perfect Processes That Rely on Multiple Offices
Lastly, make sure you have specific procedures in place for any recurring process that involves multiple departments. There are always one-off projects that you can deal with as they occur, but things that you find yourself dealing with again and again – like invoice approvals – are easiest when standardized. Nobody is left wondering what the next step in the workflow should be, or who they need to report to when their portion of the project is complete. This is the sort of clarity that works wonders for productivity – and streamlined inter-office communication.