Electronic communications can be loosely defined as an information exchange involving electronic media, such as email or instant messaging. In the modern office, these channels play a vital role in sending and receiving information. But effective communication depends on choosing just the right channel for each situation. Let’s take a look at various options out there.
The pros and cons of common electronic communication channels
Numerous electronic communication channels are available today, each with its unique pros, cons and best practices.
Despite ongoing rumors of its death, email remains a common tool in the workplace. Whether you want to talk to a single person or the entire organization, it’s an easy way to reach your target audience. It provides a chain of documentation that allows everyone involved to refer back to what was discussed quickly, and you don’t need to worry about training your staff on how to use it.
However, there are significant limitations. Because everyone uses email, including spammers, inboxes can fill up fast. It can be tough to sort through the clutter and determine which messages are relevant and essential. It can also be a productivity killer, sucking up hours that could be better spent on other tasks.
When using email:
- Craft a clear subject line that explains what the email is about
- Don’t “reply all” unless you’re sure everyone on the chain needs to see your answer
- Stay on topic within each email chain, and send a brand-new email for each additional thread
Video conferencing is an excellent way to keep remote workers in the loop and connect with teams on the other side of the globe. It can even be helpful within a single office, serving to limit the number of people who need to pack into a conference room. Everyone involved can see and hear no matter where they are in the building.
Just be careful to avoid the common pitfalls of video conferencing. Test your equipment ahead of time to be sure you understand how to use it. Know how (and when) to mute and unmute yourself. Check your background to make sure you don’t have a plant growing out of your head. Skip the dangly jewelry, which can catch light and create a disco-ball effect. And if you’re logging in from home, put on pants! During the Covid-19 shutdown, innumerable souls were caught on camera dressed only from the waist up.
If you’re hosting, know your hosting tools, such as “mute all” and how to let people into the room. You can also strategically use the chat and “raise hand” options to minimize interruptions and capture everyone’s feedback fairly.
Instant messaging or its cousin, texting, can be a great way to communicate with your team members quickly. It’s best for short, clear communications such as, “Did you review the June report yet?” or “I’m running 15 minutes late for the meeting.” Overly complex messages tend to get lost in translation, so save them for another form of communication.
By nature, instant messaging tends to be informal, so it’s not the greatest solution for communicating more than one level up or down the chain of command, or for sensitive personnel or financial issues.
The marketplace is filled with collaboration tools of every type. Some are targeted to specific industries, while others work across the board. Whether your engineers need to share drawings or your writers need to share drafts, collaboration tools streamline communication, make document sharing more straightforward and provide a paper trail that everyone can access. It’s a more organized, efficient platform for managing teams and projects.
Make sure everyone knows how to use the tools, and be sure to lay some ground rules. For example, set a specific team member as point person for each project, and encourage respect (never save over another person’s work without permission!).
If you need a one-stop solution for electronic communications with endless customization opportunities, Slack may be just what you need:
- Seamlessly integrate a wide range of business communication and collaboration tools
- Create individual channels for different projects to keep things targeted and relevant
- Support nonlinear communication, which allows everyone to contribute ideas as they have them rather than replying to an email thread or waiting for the right time zone
- Keep communication inclusive and reduce the risk of accidentally leaving someone out
- Integrate Slack with other major collaboration tools, cutting the need (and time) for switching back and forth between different applications
Tried-and-true non-electronic communication channels
Of course, electronic communication channels will never fully replace more old-fashioned solutions. When planning your business communication strategies, don’t forget about these options.
Face to face
Video conferencing works quite well when you can’t get everyone together, but nothing fully replaces in-person, face-to-face communication. When delivering sensitive news or negotiating high-stakes deals, it’s better to put everyone around the same table if possible. You won’t have to worry about a glitch at a crucial moment. It’s the most personal solution.
Some conversations don’t necessarily need to happen in person, but they do need a personal touch. If you need to clarify a message or have a short talk with a single person, it’s often best to pick up the phone. If you’re looping in more than one person, consider a video conference.
It’s easy enough to send policy and procedure manuals, contracts and other documents by email. But it’s not a bad idea to keep a hard copy of crucial documentation in the office. This allows multiple people to review it simultaneously, provides a clear and definitive final draft and prevents it from being lost in a sea of spam. Just make sure that you print out a new version whenever you make changes so that the written version really is the final draft.
Putting it all together
Electronic communication channels play a vital role in the modern workplace, and many are better suited to different situations. Powerful collaboration tools like Slack help you merge all your different communication channels into a single platform.