This is a guest post from Lisa Banks, an expert in workplace communication and writer at content marketing agency Animalz.
Good communication is vital to a productive, healthy workplace. But where that communication takes place — the channel or medium used to convey the message — can make a big difference in how successful it is.
Written communication channels have risen to the forefront in recent years. Many people now prefer written communication over phone calls and would rather read an email than have a meeting. And thanks to technology, there are more tools available now than ever before that let you tap out a message to your co-worker without having to get together in person or on the phone.
But the plethora of tools have also complicated the choices we must make when choosing the right communication channel. With teams moving to instant messaging, social intranets, and even texting as a way to communicate, the written communication channel alone brings a multitude of decisions: Should I text Sharon about this? Should I try her on Slack first? Do I need to also follow up with email? What happened to that document where we discussed this same topic last week…?
It’s as important as ever to match the message to the medium. So, how does your team know which written channel to use when they have something to say? And how does your intranet fit into the mix?
Text messaging as a communication channel
Over 96% of people use cell phones now, and text messaging has become an everyday personal communication channel. But when is it appropriate as a workplace communication channel?
Cell phones remain personal property for most people, and therefore texting should not be used unless it’s urgent. It can feel invasive to the other person. Think of this: when you check work apps like email and instant messaging on your phone, it’s by choice. But texting overrides that barrier and arrives on the co-worker’s phone screen the same as a text from their babysitter or family member. It’s also cumbersome to create and read long messages in text format, making this channel inappropriate for more than a quick or urgent message.
When to use text messaging
When to use texting will depend on how your team escalates its communication channels. Text messaging via your phone is usually a last resort. It is most useful for urgent, immediate-response messages that can be answered in a few words.
- To confirm your location when you are meeting someone
- To notify your colleague of a last-minute meeting change when you expect they are en route
- A quick check-in with someone who can’t be reached via other channels
One caveat — observe the communication culture at your company. If texting is already a favored channel by your team, then roll with what’s working. For example, if your team frequently operates away from their desks, texting may be the most efficient way they have found to check in with each other.
Slack and other instant messaging platforms
Companies use Slack and other instant messaging apps for quick communication as they allow for faster back and forth than email. It’s asynchronous, meaning one person types a message and then the other responds. This lets the sender and recipient take time to think about their answers when they need to but also allows a conversation to happen in a matter of minutes. The rapid back-and-forth of this communication channel makes it a productive way to move a discussion ahead while also sharing files — something you can’t do on a phone call.
Instant messaging helps keep your team agile. But it’s not appropriate for everything. For instance, important discussions and decisions made on Slack can be difficult to find later.
“Last year we opened up new offices in Amsterdam and New York. With our HQ in San Francisco, we found ourselves relying on Slack too heavily and received feedback that a lot of information, such as employee action items or employee resources, were getting lost in the messaging abyss. We needed to make a change to better communicate across offices. While we continue to improve communication channels, two technologies in particular that have worked well in bridging the gap are Zoom and Honey.” – Making Amplitude a Great Place to Work — for Everyone by Dana Layfield, Operations Manager at Amplitude
Moreover, your company may end up with a topic discussion taking place across various threads in multiple channels over time. A single source of truth can become increasingly difficult to pin down. While Slack can be great for collaborating in the moment, information and decisions that result from that collaboration in Slack should be reflected in a more permanent place for the company.
When to use instant messaging
Your instant messaging communication channels are most useful for individual or group messages that are brief and don’t need to be saved and referenced later.
- Gathering input on a topic
- Group collaboration on a project
- Discussions on topics that can be resolved without deep discourse
- Non-urgent requests and check-ins with team members
- Light, non-work-related banter (in its own channel)
Slack and other instant messaging channels are a great choice if everyone you need input from is an avid user. Sometimes you need to resort to a communication channel that lets you cross boundaries, though.
Email — the channel everyone still uses
Ten years ago, if someone spoke of written business communication channels, they would have been talking about email. Even today, people on average spend 16% of their workweek on email, according to a recent report. Apparently, email is still alive and sapping productivity: 55% of workers say that excessive emails get in the way of being productive.
Part of the problem may be that organizations still use email for conversations that could be taking place much more efficiently in other communication channels. Think about that unresolved email thread with a co-worker that pops back onto your radar every few weeks. Instant messaging can compress the time to resolution, letting you sort through things faster. If you’re getting nowhere in a discussion through email, it may be time to move the conversation to a different channel — either instant messaging or a phone call.
There are still times when email may be the more appropriate communication channel, however.
When to choose email over other communication channels
Among the written business communication channels, email stands out as the most formal digital option. It is also the most inclusive messaging channel because everyone in the business has an email address. This makes it an efficient way to share information with others who are not active on your company’s instant messaging platform. For example, your company’s executive team may prefer to receive email updates. It’s especially appropriate for conversations or notifications that include people outside your own organization.
- Communication with external parties like vendors and clients
- Communication that needs to include internal members who do not use instant messaging, such as some senior leadership teams
- Communication that requires more formality, such as documenting a formal complaint
Email also suffers from the same information silo issue that plagues instant messaging. Attachments and decisions in emails tend to live (and die) in the individual’s email account. Luckily, there’s a solution that helps tie together your company’s communication channels.
Your intranet as a communication channel
An intranet is an internally facing website that companies use as a centralized home base to organize their work, documents, and communication.
Apparently, this home base is in high demand. According to Workfront’s State of Work Report 2020, 71% of workers would like to have a single destination to understand and manage their work. It’s clear that teams are feeling fragmented, with 69% indicating they don’t have that type of solution in place. This feeling of fragmentation may stem from the high number of channels that work happens in today.
Honey, a modern social intranet, provides a single destination that employees can use for company communications.
A Honey intranet creates a community complete with groups, announcements, and comments, integrating other channels like email and Slack into its ecosystem. This means employees have fewer apps to open and check throughout the day — they can see all their important work communications in one spot.
One important communication goal for any organization is to develop, capture, and share knowledge. Many of the conversations that happen in other written communication channels slip away without proper documentation that others can reference. When you capture this knowledge, you make future work more productive for the whole team.
Many companies have used knowledge bases or wikis to store important company documentation. An intranet can include a wiki, but it allows for a broader range of communication and has more interactive features than a wiki. When all of your communication is pulled together in one spot, it’s much easier to use and update your wiki-style documents.
Honey helps you do this, whether your documentation lives in Google Docs, wiki software, or in Honey itself.
When your intranet is the best communication channel
A Honey intranet ties together all your communication channels. It also gives you a new channel that’s better suited than any other to reaching and including every member of your organization. This can be a lifesaver for making sure your employees feel grounded and part of a team.
In addition to helping you organize your other communication channels, a Honey intranet is the ideal channel to communicate information like the following:
- Company mission, values, and other guiding tenets
- Company news and announcements
- Policies and procedures
- Company org structure
- Company wins or milestones
- New employee introductions
- Office news
- Industry news
- Team lists and employee contact information
- Key project updates
- All-hands presentations
- IT updates
- Recognition of individuals or groups
- Open jobs
Written communication and documentation are critical to the future success of your company. But it leaves out an important dimension of communication: body language and facial expressions. There may be times when it makes sense to use a channel that adds a more personal element. A Honey intranet incorporates video, so you can enjoy some of the benefits of sharing your message in person when it’s impractical to get together.
When to explore other communication channels
While written communication channels are very important to relationships and getting work done, they aren’t always the right choice to get a message across. Consider the preferences of the other person, how urgent your request is, and how much context you need to give in order to help the other person answer well. You may find that picking up the phone or meeting face-to-face lets you fill in details faster — and these more personal channels can go a long way toward building relationships as well.
P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.