Communication channels

Communication Channels for the Virtual Workplace

by Sonya Shelton

Everyone has their preferred mode of communication: writers love emails; talkers love the phone or video; but these communications can sometimes miss the nonverbal cues we get when we communicate in-person. This leads to the danger of being misunderstood. In a virtual setting, the risk of being misunderstood increases substantially.

When confusion, misunderstandings and/or miscommunication occurs, you want to default to higher context of modes of communication. When we’re working virtually, we can’t get together in person, so we have to use the tools we have. For example, you would want to move to video conferences over phone calls for resolution.

If an email/text results in confusion, elevate immediately to a phone call or video conference. This may also be the case depending on the complexity of the content that you are trying to communicate. The most important thing here is to do whatever is needed to communicate the most effectively and efficiently.

In our research, we came across a chart produced by McKinsey & Company outlining the different communication channels that you can use for working remotely. We combined this with our own best practices, since our company has always operated virtually, to produce this communications guide for working remotely

1:1 Call/ Voice call

A phone call or one-on-one call can be simple, but incredibly effective. Use voice calls and 1:1 calls for those individual catch ups and building relationships. Phone calls are also ideal options for discussing sensitive or difficult topics.

Video Conference

Video conferencing is ideal for problem-solving and co-creation. Many video conferencing software tools also offer tons of great technological solutions such as a whiteboard features and screen share. It is really important for problem-solving or brainstorming to be able to have screen share, virtual white whiteboards or even co-editing documents in your video conference to keep attendees engaged and allow them to easily collaborate.

Video is also great for weekly planning meetings, review sessions, workshops/trainings, team meetings, retrospectives, and for when you need to make decisions.

Pro Tip: For successful video conferences, you need a clear agenda and a moderator to keep the discussion on track. You also want to have the camera turned on throughout the meeting to build relationships and pick up nonverbal cues. With new features like blurred backgrounds, you no longer have to worry about what your environment looks like around you.

Chat

Chat apps definitely have their time and place in business, but in virtual workplaces, they can take the place of a casual conversation with a co-worker that you might normally have if you were in the office.

Chat is great for quick questions, social team talks, and keeping up to date in real time. It is important just to check in on people to see how they’re doing. While working from home, Chat can also serve as a quick and direct means for urgent questions, process syndication, or when you are seeking guidance on something.

Video Captures & Voice Notes

These tools offer quick and convenient solutions – especially when working virtually! Here are some creative ways of utilizing video captures and voice notes:

Video capturing can be great for showcasing and explaining work to share with groups of people or when they might want to refer to it again. It can also be used to record video calls/meetings for people who were unable to attend. When choosing a video conferencing software, review what features and add-ons are available for that application. You want to be able to record as well as use tools like whiteboards to help you illustrate complex ideas/processes and work together in problem-solving.

Voice notes can also be used to talk somebody through a process, if it doesn’t require a visual aid. Voice notes are also great for debriefs after meetings or if someone misses a meeting and you just want to summarize the information they missed. Voice notes are as easy as “Record and Send!” For this reason, we recommend voice notes for managers that have large teams or limited time (or both).

E-Mail

Finally, we get to the tried and true Email. Email is ideal for updates and giving status reports to large groups of people. Emails work best for formal “one-to-many” communications and for formal communications inside and outside the company.

Here are some other things to consider when deciding which is the best channel for communication:

  • Time: Will you need extra time to create? Or to process the information?
  • Group size: Is this just for a 1:1? Or maybe one to many or many to many?
  • Structure: Is this a structured conversation? Or an information stream?
  • Formality: Is this conversation formal, or is it casual and chatty?
  • Urgency: Some items may be urgent, important, or maybe “just checking in.”
  • Visual Context: Should the conversation be Visual? Spoken? Written? Do you need to see or hear nonverbal clues?

This article comes from our online training “7 Tips for Working Remotely during the COVID-19 Crisis” Click on the link to view the entire training for FREE as well as access other helpful leadership resources.

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