Workplace Collaboration: A Guide to Choosing Appropriate Channels

March, 2019

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In today’s world, when we need to communicate with one or more co-workers, we can choose between a lot of “channels.” This guide weighs the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of communication. Coverage includes both face-to-face (one-on-one, group, impromptu, and planned) and mediated (phone call, video call, email message, text message, chat message, and file/log maintenance) options. The guide is suitable for individual use as well as an aid to group discussion. A companion resource, Workplace Collaboration: Choosing Appropriate Channels, provides prompts for leading a group exercise and discussion about collaboration channels.

Face-to-Face Collaboration

Pros

  • Conveys full range of non-verbal cues
  • Encourages focused attention
  • Allows for immediate feedback and clarification

Cons

  • Capturing a record of communications is possible, but solutions can be labor-intensive (e.g., taking minutes) and/or discourage candor (e.g., audio recording)

One-on-One

Pros

  • Is well suited to discussion of confidential matters
  • Is relatively easy to schedule
  • Allows people to get to know one another, helping to build trust

Cons

  • Makes it challenging to consider others’ perspectives

Group

Pros

  • Allows for consideration of diverse perspectives
  • Allows for information to be disseminated efficiently and at least somewhat precisely
  • Provides opportunities to build consensus and develop culture

Cons

  • Makes it easy to waste time (e.g., due to poor preparation, topics irrelevant to some participants)
  • Can be difficult to schedule if many people are involved
  • May offer individuals limited opportunities to be heard
  • May favor dominant personalities over reserved ones

Impromptu

Pros

  • Allows for timely response to emergent issues

Cons

  • Preempts the use of time as previously planned; if overused, discourages advance planning
  • Elicits quick thinking rather than reflection and creativity

Planned

Pros

  • Respects participants’ time
  • Allows for preparation, potentially fostering productive and efficient collaboration

Cons

  • Is likely to be postponed or canceled if emergent issues or competing events arise
  • May contribute to complicated schedules through double-booking, transitions from one event to another

Mediated Collaboration

Pros

  • Allows people to collaborate even if they’re not physically together

Cons

  • Requires monitoring of relevant channel(s)
  • Conveys limited non-verbal cues
  • Presumes that all participants have access to devices, software, and network

Phone Call

Pros

  • Allows for timely response to emergent issues

Cons

  • May interrupt important activity
  • Does not facilitate exchange if group is large
  • Does not typically yield a record of exchange
  • Does not typically allow for reflective thinking

Video Call

Pros

  • Conveys non-verbal cues better than other mediated channels

Cons

  • May employ technology that is neither widely available nor user-friendly

Email Message

Pros

  • Retains a record of communications automatically
  • Is well suited to non-urgent issues
  • Flattens the organizational hierarchy and allows for communication across organizational lines
  • Allows for information to be disseminated efficiently and precisely

Cons

  • May not be read promptly and fully, especially if long—particularly problematic if a group is involved
  • Is particularly susceptible to overuse, making it more difficult to notice and locate relevant information
  • Can prove to be inefficient if clarifications are required
  • Can be shared with unintended recipients

Text Message

Pros

  • Retains a record of communications automatically
  • May allow for timely response to emergent issues even if there are competing factors (e.g., a previously scheduled meeting)
  • Is well suited to questions that can be answered briefly

Cons

  • May interrupt important activity
  • May encourage miscommunication due to brevity and iteration
  • Yields records that cannot easily be searched
  • Can foster tension between work and private life

Chat Message

Pros

  • Conveys information about a person’s availability
  • Retains a record of communications automatically
  • May allow for timely response to emergent issues even if there are competing factors (e.g., a previously scheduled meeting)

Cons

  • May interrupt important activity
  • May encourage miscommunication due to brevity and iteration
  • May make private communications public if screen is being shared

File/Log Maintenance

Pros

  • Retains a record of communications automatically
  • Allows for information to be disseminated efficiently and precisely

Cons

  • Is ill suited to collaboration around emergent issues
  • Requires clear protocols, especially if more than one person has writing capabilities

Want to learn more about organizational communication and related topics?

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