Communication is an integral part of the workplace. It’s more important nowadays, with the improvements in technology - both hardware and software. There are plenty of different methods you can communicate with other employees.
It could be a bit overwhelming and confusing sometimes.
It’s something I still have trouble with. That is, looking to select which method of communication is the best for any given situation. I’ve put together some tips to help you determine which one is ideal for any situation.
There are several methods for you to communicate with others, which include:

Phone calls (mobile or desk phone)
SMS
Email
Instant messaging (e.g. Microsoft Lync/Communicator)
Video call
In person

There are actually good ways and bad functions for each of these different communication methods, and it needs a bit of experience and knowledge to get to know what type to use - but I’ll try to help here.

When To Use Phone Calls

Phone calls are a good way of communicating. You dial a number, the other person picks up their phone and you talk. They are, in my opinion, an underrated kind of communication at work.

The drawback of phone calls is, well, you have to know how to speak to other people. This may seem quite simple, but if you’ve worked in IT for any amount of time, you’ve probably discovered some people are better at communicating than others. A number of people - maybe even yourself - may not be as comfortable or as confident speaking on the phone to other people. That’s OK - it comes with practice and confidence with what you do.

Phone calls ought to be used if you need to understand or explain something to anyone that may take a bit of time. If something can’t be described easily over email, then a phone call is best. If you have a question that should be described well, then phone calls are usually better.

Phone calls may also be ideal for getting quick responses. You can pick up your phone (whether it’s a desk phone, a mobile phone, or even a headset linked using your PC and network), dial the individual you’re looking for, and have a response in just a minute. This is considerably quicker than other communication techniques.

When To Use Email

Email is another popular form of communication in the IT work environment. We IT people love email. We’re technical by nature and generally find that email is more appropriate to explaining our details or getting things done.

Yet, it’s at risk of be overused. I frequently get emails all through my day, and I’m sure you do as well, from people about topics and think, “This might be better suited to a phone call”. I admit, I’m probably guilty of it as well. Emails are usually a bit of a clutter if they are overused or not used efficiently.

Emails are usually used to talk about or explain or work something out between a lot of people. It’s easy to do this by using the To and CC fields - put your names in, add some details or problems or discussion, hit Send, and wait for the responses.

However, this is how the clutter comes in. Emails get sent back and forth, quite often with no real outcome, and can be hard to follow, and also distract people from other work. They are usually slow (at getting responses).

If you have to get responses or information from a few people, other communication methods are usually more suitable, such as phone calls or a face-to-face meeting (if that’s possible).

There are several upsides to email communication, though. It’s great for explaining complicated topics that require supporting information, such as diagrams. It’s great for communication status reports or minutes to a group of people. It’s ideal for one way communication. It’s also good for confirming a previous phone call (something I was told on my very first day in IT!).

When To Use SMS

SMS, or Short Message Service, is available on almost every mobile phone produced in the last ten years. It’s handy because it lets you send off a simple message to anyone on your phone, wherever you are. It’s not a common communication method in the IT world, but it is determined by your job as to when it’s used.

SMS is great for when you’re out and about. It’s great for telling people where to meet, where you are, or if you’re running late. It’s also good to send small bits of information to other people where they may be unable to get an email or a phone call - perhaps details they’re expecting.

SMS is not the best method for asking challenging questions, or speaking to a number of people. It certainly isn’t the best way for telling your boss you’re having a sick day! But that’s a topic for another article…

When To Use Instant Messaging

Many offices now have their own implementations of an instant messaging service for usage by their employees. Sometimes it’s Microsoft Lync, or Office Communicator. It’s similar to the MSN Messenger program, or ICQ, or any of those programs that were big before Facebook.

It allows you to send some text via your computer to a different employee in the company. A chat window will show up on their screen, so they can interact - basically having a conversation with you using the pc. Depending on the program used, this has different features. Office Communicator, as an example, lets you send files and speak to multiple people.

It does have its drawbacks though. It can be intrusive - people can start sending you messages and you have chat windows popping up all over the place, distracting you from your task. It can be tedious - typing a discussion generally is a lot more work than chatting with someone.

There are numerous advantages of instant messaging, though. One of these is, well, that it’s instant. You can send a note to someone, and they receive it instantly (if they’re at their desk). You can even get a response rapidly - much like a phone call.

It’s also suitable for sending information that just can’t be done on the telephone or speaking, as it’s faster than email. If you’re doing software testing and need to send some codes to a coworker, as an example, it’s probably quicker than email to open a chat window, copy and paste the codes in the window, and press Enter.

When To Use Video Calls

There is an increase in organizations using video technology these days. Perhaps it's the lower cost of technology, or the ability to work with people in other locations, but it does seem to be more common. Having a video call is similar to a voice call, but it enables you to see each other on a screen.

This can seem intrusive or unnecessary, but it comes with its benefits. It’s perfect for engagement - you can present things to many people and help them focus on what you’re saying. You can read their body language and expressions and adjust appropriately. Also you can tell if they’re actually listening!

Video calls, however, shouldn’t be overused. It could be quite personal to have a video call with an individual you don’t know that well, or about an issue that doesn’t have to have a video interaction.

When To Communicate In Person

Communicating in person is a fantastic method of communication. It involves two or more people being in the same location having a conversation. It’s great as you get the attention of the person or people you’re conversing with, you can judge body language, you can write and draw things together to aid the discussion, and almost always ends in a result for the people involved - as in, you don’t need to wait for a response as you do with email.

Communicating in person has one major downside - you have to be located together. It isn't really possible in the IT industry today, considering the variety of people doing work in different buildings, different cities and even different countries. If it can’t be carried out in person, then another method should be used, but if you’re able to get to talk to someone in person, it’s recommended that you do.

Another advantage of speaking in person is it helps you to find out the real information or get a real judgement about something. It’s rather easy for people to talk about things on the phone or email, to play hard-ball or to avoid your requests, but if you’re able to question them personally you might find that they are more helpful. It often helps. I try not to say anything over email or the phone that I’m not willing to back up in person (just in case), but some people don’t do this.

My own favourite method of communication is in person, but it’s not necessarily possible, so it comes down to making your own decisions based on your knowledge and the situation at hand.

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