Since the start of COVID, have you noticed subtle or major changes in the quality of your family business communication? Short tempers, emotional distance, and miscommunications are all to be expected during times of crisis. However, it’s clear now that the pandemic will continue to affect businesses until at least 2022. Just like planning for any aspect of business continuity during the pandemic, maintaining effective family business communication during COVID requires new strategies.
Why is Communication Important in Business (and Family)?
First, what is business communication? Put simply, it’s the process of sharing information within and outside the company. It’s the oil that keeps businesses running. When team members are communicating effectively, interpersonal conflicts resolve quickly, problems can be fixed as they come up, and new ideas are generated often. When communication falls apart, so does workflow.
But the consequences of ineffective family business communication also affect the personal lives of family members on the team. Tensions and miscommunications at work can lead to tensions at home which can lead to more tensions at work. And so on.
There are many scenarios that could be adding to family business communication difficulties during COVID. Fortunately, there are also many possible solutions. Here are six of the most common pandemic-era difficulties you might be up against.
1. Having Trouble Establishing Effective Business Communication While Living & Working Together
If you live with a family member who’s also a coworker, things might have started getting tense since COVID. Before 2020, there were friends’ nights out, sporting events, shopping trips, and coffee shop lunches. Now, you’re naturally around each other much more. For some, COVID has even meant working from home with a spouse or family member.
By now you’re probably feeling less patient with each other’s habits and mistakes. Conflict is arising much more often than it used to. And it might feel like you’re at work all the time.
Solution: Drawing New Work/Life Boundaries
You can’t rely on personal space happening naturally anymore. If you want to maintain effective business communication, it could help to actively take space from each other.
Do what you can separately. Take individual trips to the grocery store, for example.
Find new, routine reasons to leave home alone. Take an evening walk and call a friend. Go for a daily drive. Start an out-of-house exercise routine like running or jogging.
Establish “no-work” times. Leave work for work hours. Establish times in the house when no one talks about the family business.
2. You Never See Family Outside of Work Anymore
This is the opposite of the living together problem. Before the pandemic there were cookouts, birthdays, and weekend dinners at grandmas. Now the only time you see your business family is during business hours.
This means that the informal business conversations where the best ideas used to come from have stopped. And your personal relationships with family members might be suffering.
Solution: Prioritize Socializing with Family
Call more. Maybe you and your sister have never been phone call people. But waiting for the pandemic to end is too long to let your relationship go untended. Commit to regular phone calls. And yes, even the dreaded Zoom call. It will be good to see your loved ones’ faces out of the office.
Try new outside activities (when restrictions allow). Outdoor events that involve removing masks (like cookouts) are still dangerous, especially in large numbers. But meeting one or two family members for a socially distanced walk. Or catching up on different benches at the park while kids play can feel great.
3. Family Business Communication about COVID Expectations
Emotions around COVID precautions are high. Households everywhere are having to negotiate pandemic-time habits that work for everyone, and it hasn’t gone smoothly. Add on top of that deciding how to deal with safety concerns in a family workplace, and you have a recipe for heated arguments and lasting resentment.
Solution: Treat it Like Any Other Conflict
If you and your family members have different ideas of what safety looks, it can feel hopelessly unresolvable. But treating COVID disagreements in the same way you would any other family business conflict can help you make choices that everyone can accept.
Remember these are your family members and you love them. Even if their viewpoints make your angry, try to respond respectfully and keep conversations civil. Avoid conversations when emotions are running high.
Listen to their opinions. Feeling heard can quickly lower the intensity of a conversation.
Find common ground. Make a list of everything you can mutually agree on. Even if it’s short, that’s a starting point.
Be willing to compromise. Just like in any conflict, both people should be willing to accept middle-ground.
Ask non-family employees and customers for input. Ask them what would make them feel safe. Knowing how the people your business relies on feel might make decisions easier to accept.
Write down your agreement and keep it posted in a visible location. Create a COVID policy document with a list of all the agreed-on safety procedures so that everyone is absolutely clear on what was decided.
Stand firm when it comes to the law. Compromises should not take you out of compliance with local or national regulations. Doing so could threaten to fine or shut down your business and make you vulnerable to lawsuits form customers and employees.
4. Burnout is Getting in the Way of Family Business Communication
No time off can lead to burnout even during “normal” times. But with the pandemic, you might have had to pare down to bare minimum staff which makes it harder to take time off. Besides, where would anyone go on a vacation?
Burnout can be a huge obstacle to effective business communication. Exhausted team members will start to pay less attention to details. They may even stop communicating problems if they worry it will create more work for them to fix. And in a family business, family members might feel like they have to suffer in silence since their primary support network is experiencing the same level of stress.
Solution: Time Off (Even Just a Little Helps)
There’s only one solution to burnout and that’s to take a step back from work and recharge.
If you can, encourage employees to take stay-cations. Let them know that they don’t need a destination or reason to ask for time off.
Adjust business hours. There might be room to adjust your pre-pandemic hours that helps your business and your team morale. See if there are any days of the week when things slow down. Consider calling that an early day and letting employees head out sooner.
Take time for yourself too. A multi-day vacation might not be on the table right now. But if you’re experiencing burnout, it’s important to find other ways to lighten your workload. See if you can try for one day off to give you a long weekend. Too much? Take an hour off on a Friday afternoon. Even just stopping work to eat lunch outside can help a busy business owner recharge.
5. You’re Worried About Hurting Each Other’s Feelings
When you work with family, it can be tough to have conversations around work performance. During the pandemic, it can be even harder when you know a relative is having a difficult time. Still, even if an employee is your nephew or cousin, it’s important to address these topics when they come up.
Solution: Positive Communication
Just like with any employee, it’s possible to soften the blow of criticism with the right way of speaking.
Frame your request positively. Instead of telling your family member/employee what you don’t want them to do, talk about what you do want them to do (Ex: Stop showing up late v. Please arrive on time). At the same time, acknowledge all the strengths they bring to workplace.
Connect outside of work. If a difficult conversation leaves you worrying about your relationship with a family member, make some time to get in touch out of work hours. Having a lighthearted conversation with a loved one can clear the air.
Have faith in your relationship. Sometimes feelings will be hurt. But remember that you love each other, and these feelings are temporary.
6. Family Business Communication Isn’t Getting Better
These solutions might work to improve your family business communication. But if any communication problems between family members remain, there are professionals qualified to help.
Solution: Family Counselling
Many people think of family counselling as a last resort. But that’s not what it’s designed for. You wouldn’t wait for your finances to ruin your business operations before seeking financial advice. The same should go for your relationships.
When you’re struggling on how to improve communication skills in the workplace, it’s worth consulting a a professional. Family counsellors can help spouses and extended family build new habits for better communication at home and at work. If you’re having a hard time convincing family members to come with you, a one-on-one counsellor can also equip you with tools for navigating tricky family business situations.
Counselling is especially accessible during COVID because everyone is going virtual.
Find a Counsellor:
Psychology Today | Link – Nationwide Search
Open Path Psychotherapy Collection | Link – Sliding Scale Sessions ($30-$80)
SF Department of Public Health | Link – Directory for San Francisco Counselling Services in Various Languages
When it comes to any problem interfering with family business communication, remember that there are always solutions. Communication, like any aspect of your business, can be improved with the right resources and practices in place. For more help navigating family business operation during COVID, see our SF Family Business COVID Resources blog.