Workplace Communications Channels

Communications was simpler from the perspective of communications methods in the workplace when there were fewer choices.  Technology gave us more communication choices and more communication bad habits, misuse and abuse.  We have chat, Intranet, email, phone, voice mail, mobile phone, in-person meetings, presentation meetings, web meetings, micro blogs, blogs, social networks, text messaging, recorded audio, digital display, and analog letters.  We tend to gravitate toward and overuse communications methods we are comfortable with and under utilize other communications methods.  Some people prefer verbal communications methods such as meetings or phone calls.  Other people are more comfortable with written communications methods. 

Email is effective when the topic is a simple question/answer or a response that benefits from written documentation.  Email is not for conversations.  Multiple responses in an email thread is a sign another communications method is more effective.   Email is non-intrusive and does not cause interruption.

Chat is appropriate for short, less formal conversation similar to a phone call or hallway conversation.  Chat is effective as a parallel communications or back channel communications.  Chat is useful for requesting information privately in the background that benefits the primary conversation.  For example, chatting with a co-worker while on a customer conference call to coordinate question response.  Another example is while on a customer support call to answer question while talking with the customer.  

A company Intranet is effective for mass communications such as an announcement.  An Intranet using tools such as Microsoft SharePoint is effective as a central shared repository with shared open authoring.  Intranets are effective for memorialize information and knowledge sharing, since the information is available to anyone with access.  Unlike email which is held by the audience on the distribution list. 

Phone communications typically provides immediate clarification, feedback and confirmation.  Phone conversation are generally undocumented communications.   Phone communications is effective when the topic requires a dialog yet fairly straight forward and does not require visual aids or body gesture interpretation.

Mobile phone are best for informal conversation with established relationships.  A colleague or friend may excuse a bad connection or disconnection.

Voice mail is an effective independent, standalone form of communications when not used to request a call back.  Voice mail works well when communications is informational and verbal communications is more efficient than written communications.  Purposely using voicemail is an underutilized method of communications that is an alternative to email when traveling. 

Meetings come in many forms and formats.

In-person meetings are best when a topic requires collaboration, work, or discussion to achieve an objective.  Use in-person meetings when the topic is sensitive or requires interpretation of non-verbal communications, context and nuances.  In-person group meetings are relatively inefficient and more time consuming to organize.  In face-to-face discussion, participants usually are unable to deeply think about the discussion even when there is agenda or meeting preparation.   In-person meetings are over-utilized.   

Presentations are best when communications is one-way and requires physical visual communications.  Technology affords us the opportunity to present through various channels such over the web, video conference and live or prerecorded. If a presentation benefits from questions or discussion, consider providing the lecture in advance and meet for questions and answers and discussion.   This provides a significant time saving and time shifting opportunity that many college courses use.

Use web meetings, such as a WebEx, for topics requiring clarification, feedback and confirmation and visual aids, but does not require interpretation of non-verbal communications.  On-demand web meetings is an underutilized tool.  Unfamiliarity with the web tools often leads to struggling through verbally describing a software application or working off two copies of a document.

Using a company micro blog, such as Yammer, is effective for company informational topics that benefits from socialization or crowd sourcing analysis.   Use public micro blogging, such as Twitter, for public informational topics that similarly benefits from socialization or crowd sourcing analysis but are not company confidential or sensitive. 

Blogs work best for communications in the form of an article that is informational, educational, or relevant to a target audience.

Social networking, such as LinkedIn, similar to a blog is useful when informal communications is generally informational, educational, or interesting and benefits from socialization or crowd sourcing analysis.

Text messaging is best for urgent communications that requires a short or no response.  Younger generations may debate this.  At limited times, it is useful as back channel communications in meetings between colleagues to quietly get the speaker a reminder or a correction. 

Recorded audio is an underutilized channel of company communications useful in one-way communications that does not require visual communications.  Audio offers time shifting opportunities for the recipient by listening while driving or exercising. 

Digital displays are the contemporary version of the bulletin board with more messaging and format opportunities.  Digital displays unlike a bulletin board are capable of displaying video.   In some environments a digital display can include audio.  Digital displays are capable of displaying real-time content, such as company news feeds, blogs and micro blogs.

Analog letters remain a channel for marketing, legal or special communications.

We have bad habits carried over from old communications channels.  For example, writing an analog letter or memo and attaching and sending it to an email message.  This prevents the reader from previewing the messages, the message attachment is most likely not searchable and probably not mobile friendly. 

How effectively are you using the available forms of communications today?  Do you communication through channels outside your comfort zone?