Clean Up Your Electronic Communication

by Shannon Fable on May 27, 2016

Program Director

It may be time to overhaul your computer habits and the way you interact with remote staff.

By now, everyone has heard about the Hillary Clinton email scandal. (Trust me, this article is not taking a political turn.) The controversy, which essentially is about the use of a private email server versus a company-issued one (or in this case a government-issued one), made me think about how electronic communication relates to the fitness business. More specifically, it made me think about how group fitness business is conducted at most facilities and whether “best practices” may be leaving managers, instructors and health clubs vulnerable.

I’ve worked with hundreds of group fitness managers and program directors over the years, and I’ve witnessed tremendous growth in the GFM position. Our teams are constructed differently than they were; duties, programs and responsibilities have changed; we’re more connected now to the financial health of the facility; and we have more exposure to facility members. These changes have ushered in an increased workload, along with an extraordinary amount of communication and creation that the GFM must manage. Sadly, for many of us this has not come with an increase in pay or benefits or an increase in the time available to complete the tasks.

The items we once used for primary communication—like the week’s memos stuffed in file folders hanging next to the stereo, or a one-page, typed phone list—have given way to new technology. While our upgraded tools can increase speed, frequency and ease of communication and creation, we may want to reconsider whether we are actually better off! Here are three areas that could use a second look if we’re seeking a firm base for the success and longevity of our group fitness departments.

The Computer

Like many people you may use a company computer but have access to it only at work. Some employees have to share hardware with co-workers. If you have a limited number of hours to freely access a computer inside the facility, you may often feel compelled to use a personal device on-site or at home. However, while a personal device is more convenient, using it means that countless communications, documents and reports are living outside the facility, which introduces problems.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not as if all assets are necessarily in high demand or at risk of being held for ransom! But what happens when someone else needs access? What if you’re out of town, you’re sick, you quit or you’re let go? What happens to all the information that’s needed to run the business? What if you use tools and programs that the facility doesn’t use? Will the information you’re cultivating be of use in the future? Even more complicated: If you part on bad terms and end up at a rival facility, will management at your former location be able to ensure that its proprietary data is protected?

I know this sounds very “doomsday-ish,” but the unique happenings in the group fitness department and everything you do as a GFM belong to the facility and help make up its identity and brand. For the information to leave when you leave can present a huge problem. The knowledge will not be transferred, and facility managers (including the new GFM) will be forced to start over—losing precious time and continuity. Instructors and members are the ones who lose out, and you wouldn’t want that!

Beyond the transfer of knowledge, GFMs deal with sensitive data. Think about what might exist on your personal computer right now: employee information (instructors’ pay rates, employee social security numbers and phone numbers), reports regarding club performance (class counts, penetration, cost per head) and club data (passwords, server addresses). It’s important that you have access to this information on the go, but shouldn’t your facility have a bit more control over where the information ends up? Have you ever thought about the consequences if something happened to your computer?

The Fix:

  • Everyone should have a company-issued computer, preferably a laptop to enable working on the go.
  • All files should be securely managed on the facility’s server or intranet, or through a cloud-based service (managed by the facility) such as Dropbox™ or Egnyte™.
  • Any necessary reporting (class counts, cost per head, penetration, payroll) should be done via club software (for example, GroupEx PRO’s reporting features, or the club’s payroll software and club management software).

Communication Tools

Moving from memos and phone trees to electronic communication has made a GFM’s job easier, but also overcomplicated. Of primary concern is the number of communication inputs and outputs that need to be monitored. Chances are you’re using email, text, phone, Facebook and Voxer to talk to instructors. With so many ways for people to reach you, it’s nearly impossible to reply to, act on or archive information sent and received. This doesn’t even take into account how tough it would be to transfer communication if any of the facility’s leadership changed. The sheer volume of messages is enough to keep a GFM busy full-time, which prevents you from mentoring, interacting and creating.

Another area of concern is the inadvertent use of email in a way that creates more work for everyone involved. If you send out a weekly email, with instructor addresses in the “To” or “Cc” field (as opposed to the “Bcc” field), you’re exposing everyone’s personal email. If instructors’ email accounts get hacked or their computers get a virus, everyone gets spammed. (Do we really need one more email about our friends being stuck in Belize with no money to get home?)

Then, there’s the dreaded “Reply all.” Whether a Reply all is pointless (e.g., “Thanks”), is action-oriented (e.g., an all-call sub request) or asks a pertinent question about your original email, the more Replies (Re:) there are in front of a subject line the more likely instructors are to mass-delete and ignore those messages. Communication becomes eroded, and you have to work harder to ensure that all the important company details are received.

Think about the sensitive and proprietary information being sent via email that could be casually forwarded, accidentally sent to a former employee, or stored and never updated by the instructor. Being able to send communications quickly doesn’t help much when the content can be misused or ignored so easily!

The Fix:

  • Use one preferred communication portal. Choose a tool you can easily manage and direct. Facebook Messenger, texting, Voxer and other transient communication tools are great for quick connections, but not for tracking business details (such as sub situations). An intranet, a closed Facebook group or similar services provide communication solutions that help managers push out notifications, track receipt and response and easily manage questions/comments.
  • Use a company email address instead of a personal one, both to enhance professionalism and to allow the facility to redirect your emails if you’re on extended leave or you transition out of the club.
  • Always blind-copy recipients, so that you never expose instructors’ email addresses by putting them in the To field or Cc field. In addition, using Bcc will eliminate Reply all emails. Train instructors to do the same if they’re using email to find subs or conduct other company business.
  • Never attach documents to an email message; instead, make documents available through a cloud-based storage service (intranet, GroupEx PRO, Egnyte™, Dropbox™). This will help protect against proprietary information being stored locally on employees’ computers. Plus, cloud-based storage helps ensure that employees have access to the most current versions of documents.

The Contact List

All communication woes begin and end with the contact list. The number of instructors a GFM manages has grown, and staying on top of the contact list has become nearly impossible. One way to better tailor communication could be to manage smaller lists for each format. For example, this week the cycling instructors might need a different email than the water fitness instructors; or when you’re looking for subs, you may want to communicate with a subgroup of instructors. Of course, if an employee change occurs, you would have to update multiple lists, which is time-consuming and can be tough to keep straight.

Even if the list is always up to date on your end, you need to ensure that instructors have the latest information. Otherwise, when they need a sub, they’ll pull out an email they sent 3 months ago and hit Reply all. We’ve all received the inadvertent email about a desperate sub situation 6 months after we’ve left a club! An out-of-date email list not only annoys people but also increases the risk of proprietary information falling into the hands of instructors who should have been off the list a long time ago.

The Fix

  • Use communication portals instead of email. A communication portal allows the GFM to add or delete people easily, ensuring that the list is always up to date.
  • Prune religiously. If you insist on sticking with email, you must prune, prune and prune some more. Stay on top of the email list, and train your team to do the same.

Technology can make it easier to manage remote instructors; however, we mustn’t forget the potential downfalls of these conveniences. The best path forward is first to understand that you’re running a business inside of a business. You’re an integral part of the facility’s bottom line, and therefore you must insist on having the business tools you need to operate safely and efficiently. Company computers, file storage solutions and communication portals can help eliminate potential pain points so that you can focus on other, more creative aspects of the job.

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About the Author

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable IDEA Author/Presenter

Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the VP of Fitness Programming for the FIT4MOM® franchise. For more than two decades, she has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, Silver Sneakers, and BOSU® as a fitness business and programming consultant. An experienced educator, freelance writer, and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable serves as Chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the founder and co-owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool.