How to pick the most effective communication channels at work

Learn which delivery methods are best for constructive communication in the workplace

Author: Minda Honey14th February 2019Illustration by Ray Domzalski

What do comedy and effective communication in the workplace have in common? It’s all in the delivery—ba-duh-bum.

But with more ways than ever to get your messages to the masses—or the individual—figuring out which communication channels will work best can feel overwhelming. Is it ever OK to text your manager? Should you email or direct message your coworker a quick question? And does anyone talk on the phone anymore?

Select the best communication channels at work in 3 steps

How you deliver your message to its intended audience is essential to effective communication in the workplace. Fortunately, after you figure out what you need to say in your message, there are steps you can take to help you decide how to send your message in the most productive way.

Step 1: Identify what kind of message you’re sending

Start by asking yourself a series of questions about the information you need to convey so you can zero in on the appropriate communication channels to use.

  • Is your message formal or informal?
  • Does this information need to be referenceable?
  • Is this information urgent or time sensitive?
  • Are you relaying confidential or sensitive information?
  • Is this information general or specific?
  • Are you communicating with an individual or a group?
  • Is the individual a peer, a higher-up, or someone you lead?
  • Do you need to deliver a message to your team or the whole company?
  • Is this one-way or two-way communication (i.e., does it require a response)?

Step 2: Consider your company’s culture around communication

The Slack Future of Work Study highlights that trust, tools, and teamwork are essential for employee engagement and productivity. Also, the study found that 80% of workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their organization.

So if your team is all about face-to-face communication at work, upholding that belief might mean delivering bad news in person instead of sending out an impersonal email. And if your company prides itself on work/life balance, an after-midnight direct message probably isn’t the best move.

Step 3: Pick a delivery method based on your audience

Your organization likely has several communication channels for you to choose from. Here are the most common ones:

In person

In-person communication at work allows you to convey the broadest range of emotions, forces the conversation to occur in real time, and generally allows for information to flow both ways.

Many offices use weekly meetings to get everyone on the same page at the start of the week. Annual companywide meetings set the tone for the year. And retreats can be a helpful time to connect with your team in a different setting. These in-person engagements can be both formal and informal depending on the objective.

One-on-one in-person meetings are better for delivering sensitive information such as compensation packages or constructive criticism about job performance. However, they can also be used for a less formal purpose such as getting to know a new employee better or seeking out an executive for mentorship.

Voice and video

  • Direct phone call
  • Conference call
  • Video chat
  • Pre-recorded video

We can’t always be in person with the people we need to connect with. When that happens, we often rely on voice and video calls to get our message across. Voice and video calls are also easier to record for when the information being shared will need to be referenced later.

For one-on-one calls or calls with smaller groups, it’s easy for employees and workers to ask their questions and provide feedback in the moment. The more people you have on a call or who are tuning into a live video stream, the more challenging it is to foster engagement for two-way communication at work. If no engagement is required at all, a pre-recorded video can be emailed out.


  • Direct emails
  • Mass emails
  • Text messages
  • Instant messaging

Written communication dominates the workplace. It’s fast and easy, can be formal or informal, and doubles as documentation. Dashing off a question by email or sending out an email blast for important information everyone needs to know might be the norm at your company.

Texting might be controversial at some businesses, while others have fully embraced it. In general, texting is best used to connect quickly with someone and tends to be more informal. A client might text a contractor to see whether they’re available to hop on a call in an hour versus taking the risk of the email languishing in their inbox.

And then there are instant messaging platforms. This delivery method allows you to get your question answered fast and in real time and saves you from having to walk over to a colleague’s desk. It also frees your email inbox from the clutter of single word and single sentence emails.

Be a workplace communication channels surfer

Channel surfing can be a good thing when it comes to communication. People are diverse, so the ways you connect with your colleagues and team members should be diverse too.

As long as you keep in mind the kind of message you’re relaying, what your company’s communication culture is like, and who your audience is, you should feel confident in getting your message across.

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