The best communication channels to get your message across at work

There are so many ways to communicate in the workplace. Email, phone, SMS, video, chat, face-to-face, passive-aggressive notes left in the kitchen…That’s not to mention the messages we leave for each other on project management software and collaboration tools.

It’s a lot, and learning to navigate the rules for each is difficult. Are emojis OK in email? Can you text your boss? And where do gifs come into all of this?!

The secret to getting the most out of each is understanding how each one works — as well as knowing who your intended audience is. Below, we’ll run through the different types of communication channels you’re likely to encounter in the workplace and offer tips on getting the most out of each one.

The top workplace communication channels

Face-to-face

  • One-on-ones
  • Team meetings
  • Company-wide meetings

Whether it’s a one-on-one chat or a company-wide meeting, face-to-face communication is the best channel to use if your message is important, or emotional.

You can hear their tone of voice, see body language, and read facial expressions to help you decipher intent. You also have the immediacy of it. If you’re left in any doubt, you can ask the person for clarification — and, as the speaker, you can gauge whether your message has been understood, and offer further information if not.

Face-to-face communication is most effective when you learn how to listen properly, ask the right questions, and deliver your message clearly. If you’re speaking to the wider team or company, brush up on your organizational communication to ensure your message is clear.

Video and electronic

  • Phone calls
  • Video chat
  • Conference calls

It’s not always possible to be in the same room as the person you need to talk to. But that doesn’t mean we need to pass on immediacy or tone. Video and voice calls can be used for one-on-ones and smaller groups — as well as mass company-wide meetings (though for the last one, it’s not ideal).

This form of communication has the added benefit of being easy to record, so if anyone isn’t able to make the meeting, they can listen to it afterward. It’s relatively easy to foster two-way engagement (especially with smaller groups) — but if no response is required, then a pre-recorded video can work well too.

Written communication

  • Email
  • Chat app
  • Handwritten notices and memos
  • Text/SMS

Written communication is quick and easy. It’s documentable and can be both formal and casual. Let’s take a closer look at the different channels and how they should be used.

Email

This channel can be used for one-on-one, group, or mass communication. It’s efficient and can be formal in tone or not. Remember to write your messages with care, so there’s less chance of meaning being misconstrued: Avoid ambiguous tones, like sarcasm, unless you’re speaking to a close friend who already knows your personality (and will be understanding if your messages do come across as rude or blunt). If in doubt, be friendlier than usual. It’ll only ever work in your favor.

Regarding emoji usage — unfortunately, there are no set rules here. Bad news for those who agonize over this. On the whole, emojis can be useful for clarifying tone, and — between friends and colleagues — why not? When it comes to formal or official messages, you may want to hold back. The same goes for talking to external clients and top management — follow their lead: If they do emojis, feel free to add them too, but if not, hold off.

Chat apps

Chat apps can be used for one-on-one, group, and mass communication — and work in much the same way as emails. The main difference is chat is considered less formal and more immediate. While it is still technically asynchronous communication, things like read receipts and ‘online/working/offline’ statuses make it far closer to real-time chat than anything else.

Chat is best for fast, casual communication. Make the most of emojis and be playful with it — it should be fun, fast, and easy to use. Add gifs for clarity (and fun).

Written messages

Written messages should be used when no interaction is required. And no, we don’t mean passive-aggressive notes left in the kitchen because someone’s stolen your lunch (although… totally fair). It should be used for things like notices, memos, policies, and announcements. To get the most out of these, leave contact details on the message to give people the option to follow-up.

Text/SMS

Some businesses have fully embraced this. It’s informal and good for fast communication. For example, texting your colleagues to see what coffee they want you to pick up, or messaging a freelancer to see if they’re free at short notice.

How to choose the best communication channel at work

Before you choose your channel, consider what it is you want to say, and who you’re talking to. From there, you can choose your delivery.

  • Emotional messages: Is it highly-charged information, like news of a promotion, a resignation, or a redundancy? One-on-one communication lets you convey the full spectrum of your emotions and allows for information to flow both ways. This type of communication can also be useful in a less formal context, like getting to know a new employee better.
  • Group messages: Group or company-wide meetings are great for quick catch-ups, encouragement, or for setting the tone for the quarter or year, either as a small group, or company-wide. The face-to-face element makes it a good option for interaction, as well as for quick clarification.
  • Formal messages: Is it formal and official? Email or face-to-face is better. The former is better if you need written documentation, whereas the latter is better for emotional news.
  • Official messages: Does the information need to be referenceable? In which case, written communication of any kind is best. It can be formal or informal and doubles as documentation. Email is also good for blasting important information out to the group or company in a flash.
  • Timely messages: Does your message require a response? Or is it time-sensitive? Chat, phone calls, and texts are better for a speedier response. Emails can languish in inboxes for hours, days, or weeks.

How to be a communication pro in your workplace

Know what you want to say, how you want to say it, and who you’re saying it to. Understand these, and you’ll be on the right track.

Perhaps more than anything else, it’s important to remain flexible and not stick too firmly to any one form of communication. Being empathetic with your audience can go a long way, especially as a manager. For example, some people on your team may be naturally more comfortable talking face-to-face, whereas others may like to think about things for a while before responding — in which case, email might be better.

And, when it comes to communicating via newer forms of communication, like chat apps, remember to lose the formality of email and embrace anything that helps you make the experience as close to real-life as possible. It’ll only ever add clarity and fun to the proceedings.