- Phone calls (mobile or desk phone)
- Instant messaging (e.g. Microsoft Lync/Communicator)
- Video call
- In person
There are good ways and bad ways to use each of these different communication methods, and it takes a bit of knowledge and experience to get to know which one to use – but I’ll try to help here.
When To Use Phone Calls
Phone calls are a great way of communicating. You dial a number, the other person picks up their phone and you talk. They are, in my opinion, an underrated form of communication in the office.
The drawback of phone calls is, well, you have to know how to speak to other people. This may seem quite easy, but if you’ve worked in IT for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed some people are better at communicating than others. Some 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 in what you do.
Phone calls should be used if you need to understand or explain something to someone that may take a bit of time. If something can’t be explained easily over email, then a phone call is best. If you have a question that needs to be described well, then phone calls are usually better.
Phone calls are also great for getting quick responses. You can pick up your phone (whether it’s a desk phone, a mobile phone, or even a headset linked through your PC and network), dial the person you’re looking for, and have a response within a minute. This is much faster than other communication methods.
When To Use Email
Email is another popular form of communication in the IT workplace. We IT people love email. We’re technical by nature and generally find that email is better suited to explaining our points or getting things done.
However, it’s prone to be overused. I constantly get emails throughout my day, and I’m sure you do as well, from people about topics and think, “This would be better suited to a phone call”. I admit, I’m probably guilty of it as well. Emails tend to be a bit of a clutter if they are overused or not used efficiently.
Emails are commonly used to discuss or explain or work something out between a group of people. It’s easy to do this by using the To and CC fields – put your names in, add the information or problems or discussion, hit Send, and wait for the responses.
However, this is where the clutter comes in. Emails get sent back and forth, sometimes without any real outcome, and can be hard to follow, and also distract people from their work. They are usually slow (at getting responses).
If you need to get responses or information from several people, other communication methods are more suitable, such as phone calls or a face-to-face meeting (if that’s possible).
There are some upsides to email communication, though. It’s good for explaining complicated topics that need supporting information, such as diagrams. It’s good for communication status reports or minutes to a group of people. It’s great 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 pretty much every mobile phone made in the last ten years. It’s handy because it allows you to send off a quick text message to someone on your phone, wherever you are. It’s not a common communication method in the IT world, but it depends on your job as to when it’s used.
SMS is good for when you’re out and about. It’s good 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 receive an email or a phone call – perhaps critical information they’re waiting for.
SMS is not the best method for asking complicated questions, or communicating to multiple 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 workplaces now have their own implementations of an instant messaging service for use by their employees. Many times 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 a message via your computer to another employee in the company. A chat window will appear on their screen, and they can respond – essentially having a conversation with you on the computer. Depending on the program used, this has different features. Office Communicator, for example, lets you send files and chat with 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 work. It can be tedious – typing a conversation is usually a lot more work than speaking to someone.
There are a few benefits of instant messaging, though. One of them is, well, that it’s instant. You can send a message to someone, and they receive it instantly (if they’re at their desk). You can also get a response very quickly – similar to a phone call.
It’s also good for sending information that just can’t be done over the phone or speaking, as it’s quicker than email. If you’re doing software testing and need to send some codes to a coworker, for example, it’s probably faster than email to open a chat window, copy and paste the codes into the window, and press Enter.
When To Use Video Calls
There is an increase in companies using video technology these days. Perhaps it is the lower cost of technology, or the ability to work with people in other locations, but it does seem to be more popular. Having a video call is similar to a voice call, but it allows you to see each other on a screen.
This may seem intrusive or unnecessary, but it does have its benefits. It’s great for engagement – you can present things to other people and help them focus on what you’re saying. You can read their body language and expressions and adjust accordingly. You can also tell if they’re actually listening!
Video calls, however, shouldn’t be overused. It can be quite personal to have a video call with someone you don’t know that well, or about something that doesn’t need a video interaction.
When To Communicate In Person
Speaking in person is a great method of communication in the workplace. It involves two or more people being in the same location having a conversation. It’s great because you get the attention of the person or people you’re speaking with, you can judge body language, you can write and draw things together to help the discussion, and almost always ends in an outcome 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 drawback – you do need to be located together. This may not be possible in the IT industry today, with so many people working in different buildings, different cities and even different countries. If it can’t be done in person, then another method must be used, but if you’re able to get to speak to someone in person, it’s recommended that you do.
Another benefit of speaking in person is it lets you find out the real information or get a real judgement about something. It’s quite easy for people to say things on the phone or email, to play hard-ball or to avoid your requests, but if you’re able to ask them in person you may find 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 personal favourite method of communication is in person, but it’s not always possible, so it comes down to making your own decisions based on your experience and the situation at hand.