It seems obvious to say that teams need to talk to each other. But in reality, a lot of the “right hands” in the business don’t even know what their “left hand” is doing. There’s a gap in knowledge sharing and it ultimately leads the company to fail. To top that, even 69% of managers aren’t comfortable communicating in the workplace at all. As a business leader, how can you help your team establish the right channels of communication, and actually get your team to make use of them? We’ve put together the breakdown of the 7 most important communication channels and a few communication tips that work for any department!
- What are channels of communication?
- Why are communication channels important in the workplace?
- 7 types of communication channels in the workplace
- Tips for improving the communication process
What are channels of communication?
Channels help us lay out our ideas, translate for other departments or teams in other countries, and document our thoughts or actions for later. Essentially, they’re any platform that you use to share something with another person (including yourself). Communication channels can be physical (such as writing notes), or virtual (such as texting or video conferencing). Depending on which platform you use, you might be able to leverage additional functionality like sending images, recording video calls, sharing documents, or setting up polls and surveys. Anything sent over these channels is a method of communication between at least one party and another.
Why are communication channels important in the workplace?
There are a lot of ways you can imagine reaching out to your coworker, but each channel serves a unique purpose. If there’s something urgently wrong with your project, would you rather jump on a video conference to quickly solve it, or would you store your thoughts into a meeting agenda that will be read two weeks from now? Not only do communication channels give us options that align with different types of work or priorities, but they also help accommodate multiple types of employees. For example, more introverted employees may prefer not to use voice messaging features, while an extroverted sales team member might rely heavily on that channel.
Foster effective communication in your meetings
A well-run meeting can foster communication and collaboration by including an agenda the whole team can contribute to. Try using a tool like Fellow!
7 types of communication channels in the workplace
A good old face-to-face conversation still works wonders. Whether it’s giving a presentation pitch to a boardroom full of executives or having a water cooler chat, this is by far the most effective form of communication. Face-to-face conversations allow you to read body language and tone, and you can ask clarification questions immediately.
Since a lot of teams have now moved to remote work settings, video conferencing is a new substitute for face-to-face communication. While it can be harder to get the same benefits as in-person chats, video conferencing still provides instant feedback and faster decision-making than any other communication channel.
Another traditional method of communication that gives instant feedback, phone calls are popular for sales and customer success teams that need to move deals and tickets through quickly. This is a very accessible way of communication for any employees who are on the road or prefer not to turn their cameras on over a video call. Better yet, this communication channel is also accommodating to all generations of workers as everyone knows how to use it.
Most formal communication travels through a company by email. It’s a simple way to contact a lot of parties at once and it can be used for anything from planning a team event to making announcements. Since it maintains records for years, you can use emails whenever you need a paper trail—for example, if you’re delivering a final product to a customer or summarizing an in-person discussion for later reference. Some sales negotiations even happen by email, too
Did you know communicating through documents can also be seen as a channel? Any time that you’re recording information in a document for someone else to read, you’re communicating! This goes for things like building reports, creating case studies, and even writing meeting agendas. For example, with a tool like Fellow, you can create a meeting agenda and share it with your attendees ahead of the call. It’s a collaborative, asynchronous form of communication that makes your face-to-face discussions even more productive.
Instant messaging (IM) platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Discord, Webex, and Google Chat are all great communication channels for short and quick discussions. Typically, a business sets itself up on one IM platform type so all employees can easily engage with each other. Most IM platforms also enable videoconferencing, or at least audio calls, so it’s also convenient if you need to jump into a face-to-face conversation. Almost all modern businesses have some form of IM tool, regardless of their decision to work remotely, hybrid, or completely in person.
Social media platforms are so important—not just for building brand awareness, but also for employees to communicate to wider networks. Salespeople often rely on social media like LinkedIn to cold outreach to new potential buyers. Engineers and product teams use platforms like GitHub and Stack Overflow to post issues, share solutions, communicate priorities, and work on open-source projects together. Each social media platform seems to be used dominantly by one department, so it’s hard to recommend just one platform for every business or team.
Voice notes go a long way in enabling asynchronous problem-solving on the fly! Similar to leaving a voicemail on someone’s phone, voice notes allow you to record an audio message and share it with a coworker through an IM platform or text. This is especially great for teams that work across multiple time zones or that need to convey an idea quickly, but struggle to get everyone together for a face-to-face or video meeting on time. Depending on the tool you use, voice notes may save for a long time or they may disappear after they’re listened to, so it’s important to read the fine print on whichever voice notes tool you adopt.
Tips for improving the communication process
- Simplify your message
- Practice active listening
- Ask questions
- Leverage body language
- Provide feedback
- Schedule one-on-one meetings
1Simplify your message
Being concise can be difficult, especially when you’re in times of crisis or if you’re handling a complex problem. The smaller your message, the more likely your recipient will correctly interpret your request or concern. A fast way to get to the bones of the message is to:
- Describe what’s happening in one sentence.
- Describe why it’s important in one sentence.
- Provide the action items that you need from the person, including by when you need them delivered.
2Practice active listening
Actively listening shows the other people in the conversation that you’re paying attention. When they feel like they’re being heard, you increase trust and engagement across the team. This is especially important for managers checking in on their direct reports during one-on-one calls, or for anyone who is hearing someone explain an ongoing problem.
Follow-up questions help you to ensure that you’re accurately interpreting the conversation. In fact, it’s also a best practice when you’re working on your active listening skills! Some clarification questions that can help you make the most out of your conversation include:
- What is the blocker?
- Who is involved?
- What do I need to do?
- When do I need to do this?
- Are there specific requirements or steps I need to follow?
4Leverage body language
Body language is a nonverbal form of communication. By reading someone else’s body language, you can see through their words to gauge their actual feelings. Some examples of body language include:
- Making eye contact can help you seem confident
- Tapping your feet suggests anxiety
- Rolling your head back can be a sign of boredom or intensive thinking
- Slouching your shoulders is a sign of tiredness
Keeping in touch with your peers helps you stay in sync, which keeps your projects heading in the right direction. Integrating constructive feedback conversations into your regular communication flow can help your team speak up about areas with which they’re struggling. This creates an opportunity to improve and learn better for next time! With Fellow, you can add feedback as a talking point or automatically send feedback surveys after your meeting so your attendees can let you know how it went.
6Schedule one-on-one meetings
One-on-one meetings are a time between managers and one of their direct reports to discuss updates, challenges, and potential solutions. These meetings can also be used to plan career development goals and progress. Depending on the seniority and experience of your team, the frequency of your one-on-one meetings might be weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly.
There are a lot of small pains that come with growing a business—and finding the right communication channels is one of them. While many departments will adopt their preferred communication processes over time, you can set your organization’s departments up for success by providing them with plenty of areas to connect and collaborate. Though, too many platforms aren’t the right answer either as they can overwhelm your employees and make them uncertain of where they should connect. Set up a few channels to start, make your communication expectations super clear, and be a communication role model for your team to demonstrate what you’d like them to do!