Channels of communication
According to the definition in the Cambridge Dictionary, a channel of communication represents a system or method people use to communicate with others.
In their work, “Professional Communications“, J.R. Dingwall et al. define a channel of communication as either a method or specific tool we use to communicate with others.
In business, the communication channels people use are various, and may include:
- Traditional solutions — such as face-to-face communication, emails, and phones;
- Internal variants of popular public systems — such as intranets, internal blogs, internal podcasts, and internal social media systems;
- Specialized solutions — such as VoIP technology, video conferencing tools, company wikis, employee feedback systems, project management tools, and document sharing systems;
- All-encompassing modern solutions — such as team communication apps;
These communication channel solutions may be used for formal or informal conversations, and may also be regarded as official or unofficial means of communication within a company.
In this guide, we’ll talk about all the types of communication channels you may encounter in a business setting and what kind of communication they’re suitable for. We’ll provide examples for each channel of communication, list the software and equipment you may need to implement them, as well as explain their advantages and disadvantages in helping you establish effective communication within your organization.
Table of Contents
Formal vs Informal channels of communication
The first distinction in terms of the types of communication channels we’ll talk about is the one between formal and informal channels.
Formal communication channels of communication
Formal communication channels are used for exchanging official company information, such as company strategies, goals, policies, agreements, or feedback. Formal communication channels are also used for company-wide communication between employees and their superiors or colleagues, on topics that are strictly related to business.
- Using the comment feature in Google Docs to provide feedback for business proposals, blog post drafts, and press releases, directly in the document
- Using email to send progress updates about the company to all employees
- Using a public channel called #general within a team communication app to announce all-hands meetings
Informal communication channels of communication
Informal communication channels may also be used for exchanging official company messages, but they are also more likely to be used for informal conversations, which are usually not related to business.
- A quick face-to-face conversation with a teammate during the lunch break, about the popular TV show they are both invested in
- An HR generalist talking via a team chat app with a new hire about her interests, to better understand what kind of team building activities she prefers
- A quick phone call between two product designers about their latest design solutions
The channels used for formal and informal communication may be regarded as official or unofficial with a company.
Official vs unofficial channels of communication
In terms of whether they are prescribed for use in an organization, or not, we also distinguish between official and unofficial channels of communication:
Official channels of communication
Official channels of communication are the hardware and software solutions prescribed for communication by official company policies.
- A team chat app being used by a software development company to handle most, if not all, forms of communication among teammates
- A healthcare facility that practices face-to-face meetings on a daily basis, with little to no alternatives
- A bank that harbors the practice that all correspondence with clients be handled over email
Unofficial communication channels
Unofficial communication channels may accompany official communication channels. The key difference between an unofficial and an official communication channel is that the latter is NOT prescribed for everyday use by an official company policy.
- The common way to conduct meetings is face-to-face for 3 out of 4 teams in a company, but a couple of key teammates in the product design team work remotely, so their daily standup meetings are always conducted via video chat, to include the said teammates
- The prescribed, official video chat app in the company is Zoom, but the customer support team uses Google Meet for their meetings
- Using a VoIP technology solution (such as Viber or WhatsApp) for emergency calls
The official and unofficial channels of communication in an organization can both be used for formal or informal communication.
Now that we’ve explained the differences between formal and informal communication channels on one hand, and official and unofficial communication channels on the other hand, let’s see what specific channels of communication fall under these divisions.
The traditional channels of communication
In this section, we’ll talk about the traditional channels of communication.
In certain regards, they might be outdated or difficult to arrange, but are still popular solutions businesses rely on to handle communication.
They include face-to-face communication, phones, and emails.
According to the definition, face-to-face communication, also known as face-to-face interaction or face-to-face discourse, involves interactions that occur without any mediating technology. Such communication may be planned or unplanned, it may occur between two or more people, and it may be carried out in various settings, such as hallways, offices, kitchens, cubicles, or conference rooms — i.e. anywhere in the office where people may come face-to-face and get the opportunity to interact.
Face-to-face communication software
Equipment you need for face-to-face communication
The pros of face-to-face communication:
- Great for improving professional relationships — in-person meetings show that the issue you are talking about, and the person you are talking with, are worth the extra time it takes to set up and attend an in-person meeting;
- Great opportunity to read someone’s body language — being able to see the person you are communicating with will help you analyze their eye gaze, gestures, and other instances of body language, to better interpret their thoughts and feelings;
- Great for improving credibility and trust — in-person interactions create an atmosphere of equality between the participants of the conversation or meeting;
- Great for enhancing productivity — with face-to-face interactions, brainstorming sessions and all exchange of opinions can happen on the spot;
- Great for discussing visuals — when talking with someone in person, you can bring printed images, pamphlets, or any other visuals that are important for the points you’re trying to convey;
- Great for dispersing ambiguity — the person trying to communicate something will get instant feedback on whether the message was clear or needs further clarifications;
The cons of face-to-face communication
- Logistical problems — it may be difficult to find the appropriate time and place for all the participants you want to include in the face-to-face meeting;
- It’s easier to swerve off-topic — while talking about one crucial topic, it’s easy to assume it would be best to talk about other issues, which may turn a quick 5-minute conversation into a time-consuming 1-hour discussion without little real value;
- It may be difficult to achieve for remote teams whose companies have physical headquarters — people may try to commute no matter the geographical distance (at least for the more important meetings), but this will likely be a costly and even a time-wasting solution;
- It’s impossible to achieve for teams whose companies DON’T have physical headquarters — coffee shops are often an ineffective alternative and renting a temporary office space is a costly solution to which you might want to find a virtual alternative instead.
What kind of communication is face-to-face interaction best for?
- Brainstorming sessions — participants can bounce ideas off each other in real-time and come up with solutions on the spot;
- Informal communication with co-workers — face-to-face interactions are best for building rapport with colleagues;
- Presentations — the presenter can use their voice, visuals, and body language to present the idea, as well as involve the audience and keep them engaged;
- Job interviews — company representatives can better assess if a candidate is a cultural fit;
- Providing instant feedback — face-to-face communication enables real-time questions and answers;
- Addressing sensitive issues — bad news and uncomfortable topics are best handled in person.
Face-to-face communication examples
- One-on-one informal conversations between two colleagues having lunch in the company kitchen during break time;
- Group discussions among members of an ER team in one of the surgery rooms, about the condition of a recently admitted patient;
- All-hands meetings about the future of a company, occurring in the company’s conference room;
- Team meetings about the daily progress of a software development team working on a medical app, occurring in an open office space.
A phone is an electronic device we’re all familiar with, and it’s still one of the most used communication solutions in the business world.
Despite the growing popularity of digital solutions for internal communication channels, one 2020 Customer Communications Review shows that customers who’ve bought something from a company, still opt to call the said company via phone to ask additional questions. According to the said report, the following share of customers preferring to do so:
- 36% of customers aged 56+;
- 30% of customers aged 40-55;
- 22% of customers aged 18-39.
So, depending on your type of business and your target customers, you may want to include a phone line to your office premises, despite its perceived outdatedness.
The most important type of phone software you need to consider is your smartphone’s operating system which dictates the features you can enjoy.
According to research, here are the most common mobile operating systems:
- Android, with a share of 47.51%;
- iOS, with a share of 41.97%;
- Symbian, with a share of 3.31%;
- Windows phone OS, with a share of 2.57%.
Equipment you need for phone calls
To conduct phone calls, you’ll need one or all of the following:
- Landline phone(s);
- Mobile devices;
- External headphones for mobile devices;
- External microphones for mobile devices.
The pros of using phones for communication
- Great for adding a personal touch — phone calls show that the issue you are talking about, and the person you are talking with are worth the extra time it takes to call someone over the phone;
- Great for increasing credibility and trust — phone calls create an atmosphere of equality between the participants of the conversation;
- Great for increasing productivity — phone calls also allow for quick brainstorming sessions and exchange of opinions;
- It helps avoid misunderstandings — when speaking over the phone, the person trying to communicate something will get instant feedback on whether the message was clear or needs further clarifications.
The cons of using phones for communication
- You can’t see nonverbal cues — you can’t see the person you are communicating with, and thus can’t pick up on their body language and additional meaning behind their words;
- You can’t include visuals — when talking with someone over the phone, you won’t be able to show or receive visuals such as images and videos that would help you get your points across better;
- It gets too easy to expand the conversation beyond its intended topic — while talking about one crucial topic, it’s easy to assume it would be best to talk about other issues, which may turn the 5-minute timebox you’ve planned for this phone call into a time-consuming 1-hour discussion with little real value;
- Improper work-life balance — if phone calls occur outside of work hours, it may become difficult for the employees to enjoy their time away from work;
- Needs to happen at an opportune moment — unless you are within earshot of your phone, you may not even know someone is calling you, and, naturally, miss the call; Moreover, if you’re using a landline phone with no caller ID, you won’t even know someone tried to reach you in the first place.
What kind of communication are phones best for?
- A quick check-in with a colleague — a phone call is great for a quick check-in with a co-worker you have an established relationship with, especially if it’s a standard procedure among you;
- Providing and obtaining instant feedback — phone calls allow you to ask questions and provide answers in real-time;
- Addressing sensitive issues — bad news and uncomfortable topics should best be handled over the phone, if not in person;
- Phone interviews — these quick interviews are an effective way to narrow down the list of candidates who will get to the face-to-face interview stage;
- Discovery calls — this type of interview represents the first contact with a prospect and is an excellent way to establish rapport.
Examples of communication conducted via phone
- Discovery calls with clients conducted via dedicated phone lines;
- Testimonial calls between a sales specialist and a satisfied client, conducted via a landline phone at the office;
- A phone job interview between a financial expert and an HR manager at a company that provides financial services, conducted via mobile phones;
- Team progress calls between the manager of a marketing team and an SEO specialist about an important outreach event, conducted via mobile phones.
Emails are electronic messages distributed from a sender to a recipient via the Internet. Moreover, emails are one of the most popular types of communication channels in the business world — according to a Statista report, the number of sent and received emails per day on a global level is likely to rise from 319.6 billion in 2021 to 361.6 billion emails by 2024.
However, in the long run, and on a larger scale, such growth in email use may indicate more harm than good, at least in terms of productivity and cost-effectiveness. Namely, according to a Clockify report about the time spent on recurring tasks, an average American who earns $27.16 per hour wastes $12,222 per year on repeat emails, which builds up to $12.2 million per year for just one company that employs 1,000 people.
The most important software you’ll need to consider is the email client you’ll use.
According to a Litmus infographic, the 10 most popular email clients are:
- Gmail with a user share of 27.8%;
- Apple iPhone, with a user share of 27.6%;
- Outlook, with a user share of 9.1%;
- Apple iPad, with a user share of 8.5%;
- Apple Mail, with a user share of 7.5%;
- Yahoo! Mail, with a user share of 6.3%;
- Google Android, with a user share of 2.5%;
- Outlook.com, with a user share of 2.3%;
- Samsung Mail, with a user share of 1.6%;
- Thunderbird, with a user share of 0.5%.
Equipment you need for emails
No special requirements are needed to use email as a communication channel, apart from the computer/laptop, tablet, and smartphone you usually use for everyday business.
The pros of using email for communication
- Double as documentation — any email you send and receive gets stored in your email account, so you can access these information exchanges at any time;
- Can involve more than two people — you’ll be able to send the same email to multiple addresses, by simply adding the addresses of all the people you wish to communicate with, or by hitting “reply all” to a mass email you’ve received;
- Can be sent at any time — you can miss phone calls, but the recipient of your emails doesn’t have to be next to a computer or smartphone to get your message;
- You can add attachments — email clients allow you to add additional information to your messages, i.e. add links, attach files and images.
The cons of using email for communication
- Potentially time-consuming — According to time tracking statistics, an average person spends 13 hours per week just on emails, and, at least a portion of that time could be better spent on immediate tasks of higher priority; Moreover, if you view your email as a place to store documentation, it may be difficult to find the emails you need, when you need them, even when using the search option;
- Can be viewed at any time — even if you’ve sent an email labeled “Urgent, answer immediately!”, you won’t have any guarantee that the receiver of the email will see it on time;
- No instant feedback — considering that emails can be sent and viewed at any time, you may need to send multiple emails back and forth for days until you’ve reached an agreement;
- Emailing encourages multitasking — an inbox that regularly fills up with emails urges us to check our inboxes regularly, which forces us to multitask with our priority tasks on one hand and emails on the other hand, and thus lose as much as 20 minutes per email, according to a study by the University of California, Irvine;
- Great potential for malware — anyone can send you emails that involve scams, trojan horses, viruses, or other malware, and opening them may bring your entire company at risk;
- It’s slowly becoming outdated — emails offer the option to message someone or share documents, but, nowadays, there are specialized, more appropriate apps for these activities people are more likely to turn to;
- You can only organize data by the sender — you can’t organize the information you send and receive by topic;
- It’s too easy to abuse the system — considering that there are usually no restrictions on who employees can send email to while working, people can waste a lot of time emailing family and friends if they wish to do so.
What kind of communication is email best for?
- Providing clear and directional information — it’s best to use email for formal information sharing, whether internally or externally;
- Sharing news — whether you want to share an internal company newsletter or spread news about your products or services among loyal customers, email is a great way to do so;
- Sending and collecting important documents — while email is not an ideal solution for organizing data and storing documentation, it’s great for sending documents (e.g. forms employees need to fill);
- Formal asynchronous communication with external parties — best for brief and structured communication with external parties, especially when you operate on different schedules;
Examples of communication handled via email
- A string of direct emails exchanged between the head of the burn unit and the plastic surgeon in charge of a specific patient;
- A mass email the CEO of a company sends to all employees, requiring no replies.
- An internal newsletter, detailing progress about key products and offering important announcements.
Communication channels that are internal variants of popular public systems
In this section, we’ll talk about the channels of communication used in business that represent internal variations of popular public systems people likely use on a regular basis in their personal lives:
- intranets (i.e. internal variants of public Internet websites);
- internal blogs (i.e. internal variants of public blogs);
- internal podcasts (i.e. internal variants of public podcasts);
- internal social media systems (i.e. internal variants of public social media platforms).
According to the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an intranet is “a computer network, especially one based on Internet technology, that an organization uses for its own internal (and usually private) purposes and that is closed to outsiders.”
We typically recognize three types of intranets:
- Collaboration platforms — as a type of intranets, collaboration platforms involve a two-way publishing principle, in the sense that people who are part of it are expected to publish and consume the same amount of information. The information shared is usually more conversational and may revolve around a forum where people can discuss, comment, and find information on specific subjects.
- Internal websites — as a type of intranets, internal websites involve a one-way publishing system, in the sense that there is a distinction between the people who are expected to publish the information (i.e. the “publishers”) and the people who are expected to consume the information (i.e. the “users”). The information is reviewed before publishing, and is presented like a regular, public website — but, it is hidden from the public with a firewall. Apart from its function as a communication channel, an internal website may also serve as a collaborative platform and a knowledge management tool.
- Distributed intranets — as a type of intranets, distributed intranets represent a decentralized system that consists of several smaller applicants, usually grouped around a centralized user database, or similar common infrastructure.
To set up and run an intranet, you can consider the following types of software solutions:
- Firewall software;
- A content management system;
- Specialized intranet software.
Popular specialized intranet software includes:
- Microsoft SharePoint;
- Workplace by Facebook;
- HLC Connections;
- Zoho Connect.
Equipment you need for intranets
Depending on the purpose of your intranet (e.g. whether you want to have a text-only website that’ll be accessible to 3-5 people only, or you want to host streaming videos to 500-1,000 employees at once), you may need a dedicated server and maybe even a backup server or server clusters to host your databases.
You may also want to consider some firewall hardware, to fully protect your organization’s network from outsiders.
The pros of using intranet for communication
- Great for increasing employee productivity — all the static information about a particular topic will be grouped in one place, which will make the needed information easier to find;
- A great platform for social networking — the intranet solutions that offer social media functionalities allow you to connect with colleagues through shared interests, hobbies, and similar aspects of your personal lives;
- Great for storing documentation — an intranet solution is a suitable place to store your policies, procedures, white papers, HR forms, reports, and other important, static data, in one place.
The cons of using intranet for communication:
- Greater potential for security risks — unless you establish the right security measures, your intranet may easily be breached by an unauthorized party who will then gain access to your company’s sensitive data;
- Potentially a time-consuming and costly solution — setting up and maintaining a company intranet can be a time consuming and costly process, as you may need dedicated teams and admins to set up and maintain everything;
- Can be counterproductive — if your collaborative platform, internal website, or distributed intranet hold a large amount of poorly organized information, it may be difficult and confusing for people to find what they need, when they need it;
- May be harder to measure effectiveness — Most intranet solutions don’t have suitable analytics modules, so professionals won’t be able to measure internal communication effectiveness;
- Low user adoption — According to a survey by Prescient Digital Media, only 13% of employees report that they participate in their company’s intranet on a daily basis, while 31% report that they never do so.
What kind of communication is intranet best for?
- Posting announcements — you can use a company intranet solution for posting internal announcements and news;
- Reporting business statistics — you can post live statistics on the company progress, e.g. sales numbers, customer satisfaction so that employees can stay informed;
- Internal support services — a discussion forum where employees can ask questions about current issues or find solutions in previous discussions;
- Knowledge hub — an intranet can act as a library with all the information employees need for work.
Examples of communication conducted via intranet
- A collaborative platform — an internal discussion forum created and maintained by the company, where the customer support team in charge of a game app can ask questions and find answers to the more difficult problems they get assigned with while helping users.
- An internal website — an internal website designed to keep employees informed about key updates and changes in the company. The internal website in question contains:
- A noticeboard feature, with fresh updates from different functions;
- A simple data dashboard, with real-time data about sales, health records, and other relevant parameters;
- An embedded social media feed, with real-time posts from satisfied users.
- A distributed intranet — a system used by a marketing company that includes an announcement system, a document library, and a mobile phone directory.
Internal podcasts are similar to regular podcasts, but they are usually available only to the members of a team, or more commonly, the employees of a company.
This particular communication channel relies on the fact that 42% of people aged 18-34 listen to podcasts on a weekly basis (according to studies by LinkedIn) — as such, it represents a popular way for people to intake information.
Although internal podcasts are usually available only to a select group, they can also be made available for the public. A great example of a public internal podcast is Tell Me Why, from American Airlines, which has host Ron DeFeo, the Vice President of Global Communications talk about the “why” behind the decisions made at their company.
Internal podcasts software
Popular podcast software includes the following solutions for recording and editing:
- Adobe Audition;
- Logic Pro X;
Equipment you need for internal podcasts
To record the podcast, you’ll need:
- A computer/laptop;
- A quality microphone (in case the internal podcast involves several participants, it’s best to avoid USB microphones and hook up multiple XLR microphones, or invest in an audio interface);
- A quality HD camera (in case you’re making a video podcast);
- Headphones (+ Headphone amplifiers in case you plan to have several hosts);
- Additional equipment that will improve the audio quality of the podcast, such as pop filters, mic stands, shock mounts, as well as a sound-proof room that’s undergone acoustic treatment.
The pros of using internal podcasts for communication
- Great for culture building — internal podcasts help you share company values, celebrate wins, and talk about failures, in a more approachable way, thus helping define and build company culture;
- Great for onboarding — these podcasts are a great solution to help people settling in their new roles better understand the expected workflows, the culture of the company, and other company basics;
- Great for improving engagement — this type of communication channel helps you disclose important information via storytelling, which is likely to hold people’s attention longer and help the information sink in;
- A practical solution for receiving information, from the point of view of listeners — people can easily listen to the podcast while performing other tasks, such as working out, commuting, or running errands;
- You can base the podcast around a particular topic — your internal podcast may focus on basic information sharing, but you can also base it around a particular topic (e.g. improving internal communication) and invite employees who are well-versed in the topic or even third party experts as occasional guests.
The cons of using internal podcasts for communication
- It’s a limited solution for communication — internal podcasts are a one-way type of internal communication that focus only on sharing information (i.e. not receiving it), which means they need to be a part of an internal communication plan and not the only official channel for internal communication;
- It can be an expensive endeavor — if you are looking to record a quality internal podcast, you may need to invest in expensive hardware, which may not pay off in the long run, especially for smaller companies.
What kind of communication are internal podcasts best for?
- Providing company updates — this is especially great if you’re in a remote or hybrid work environment and have people on different schedules; This way, they can get the information when it’s convenient for them;
- Industry-related discussions — podcasts can serve as a fun tool for familiarizing employees with industry trends;
- Improvement tips — you can have expert guests from within the organization, as well as external parties, provide work-related or other topic-specific tips to employees.
Examples of communication conducted via internal podcasts
- A company focused on selling globally famous products having the head of sales run an internal podcast about the overall progress and some interesting user experience stories associated with the said products;
- The head of the HR department in a company hosts an internal podcast that revolves around interviews with third party experts on the topic of improving internal communication;
- Two HR generalists hosting an internal podcast meant to help everyone get to know each other better and share knowledge — employees serve as guests who talk about their professional interests and aspirations as well as share their experience and tips.
Internal blogs are digital communication tools meant to help you improve internal communication by securing one place where the company can share information and knowledge in an organized manner.
As is the case with internal podcasts, you can also make internal blogs publicly available. For example, re: Work by Google is an example of an internal-blog-gone-public that talks about topics such as:
- values they wish the employees to adopt;
- high-performance cultures;
- learning and development;
- goal setting.
Internal blogs software
To host your blog’s content, you’ll need a content management system (CMS) — here are some of the more popular options:
- MS SharePoint;
Equipment you need for internal blogs
No special requirements, for the most part.
If your internal blog includes photographs (e.g. of products your company sells or of people you interview) and you are considering making it available for the public in the future, it’s worth considering additional equipment that will improve the quality of your blog photographs (e.g. lightboxes and tripods).
The pros of using internal blogs for communication
- A great option for documenting information — the information you share via the internal blog is saved and stored permanently (until you decide to delete a blog post, that is);
- The comment section allows discussions — if the internal blog has an open comment section, employees will be able to comment on what they’ve just read and offer their insights on the topics discussed;
- You can base the blog around a particular topic — just like internal podcasts, internal blogs may revolve around basic information sharing, but you can also base them around a particular topic (e.g. innovations in software development) and invite employees who are well-versed in the topic to share insights;
- A visually appealing solution — if you follow the rules for a great reading experience (e.g. headings, short paragraphs, lots of visuals such as graphs, infographics, tables, and charts), the internal blog can be a visually appealing solution for people to take in new information.
The cons of using internal blogs for communication
- This practice expects the employees to actively seek out information — although most employees may engage with the internal blog, some may still expect important company-wide information to be delivered by the employer and may engage with the blog less, thus missing important updates;
- It’s another limited solution for communication — internal blogs, just like internal podcasts, are mostly a one-way type of internal communication that focus only on sharing information (unless an active comment section is involved), which means they need to be a part of an internal communication plan and not the only official channel for internal communication;
- No instant feedback — even if the blog has a comment section, it’s still a poor solution for a main communication channel, as new questions, answers, and insights are likely to appear over a longer period, and it’s easy to miss those directed at you.
What kind of communication are internal blogs best for?
It’s best to use a company blog to keep employees informed, inspired, and engaged. Such internal blogs may cover a variety of topics, including:
- External and internal company events;
- Company-wide announcements;
- Company values;
- Mergers and acquisitions;
- Employee stories;
- Company milestones;
- Company achievements;
- Industry trends and news.
Examples of communications conducted via internal blogs
- A college blog that focuses on the college’s achievements, milestones, and announcements, but also contains interviews with professors, select students, and guest lecturers;
- A hospital blog focused on disclosing innovative research topics, new medical technology, medical success stories, general medical topics, and interviews with the medical staff;
- A software development company blog focused on interviews with employees in which they share their expertise, experience, and tips on innovative techniques.
Internal social media systems
Internal social media, also known as an Enterprise Social Network (ESN), is an internal communication channel that mainly aims to increase employee engagement and keep employees informed, by emulating a phenomenon that’s now rooted in modern society — social media.
After all, a Statista report shows that over 3.6 billion people worldwide were social media users in 2020, and this number is expected to rise to 4.41 billion by 2025 — so, it’s no wonder companies are starting to use social media functionalities in their internal communication more and more.
Internal Social Media software
Popular choices for specialized social media platforms you can use internally include:
Equipment you need for internal social media
No special requirements.
The pros of using internal social media for communication
- Easy adoption — almost everyone has an account on at least one popular social media platform, so it’s easier for people to get used to communicating on a platform that mimics their favorite social media functionalities;
- It helps build professional relationships — considering that internal social media platforms are less focused on sharing information, and more on helping colleagues engage with each other, they are a great solution when you’re looking to build your company culture;
- It’s a great test environment for public social media platforms — anything your company plans to post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you can first post on your internal social media network and let your teammates act as a mock audience.
The cons of using internal social media for communication
- Less suitable for more formal communication — internal social media systems are a more informal channel of communication and thus less suitable for sharing company values, procedures, and policies;
- There may be cases of misuse— unless there is a clear and straightforward policy about what can and should be posted on internal social media platforms, you may have to deal with cases of misuse;
- No instant feedback — as is the case with internal blogs, internal social media systems are a poor choice for a main communication channel, as new questions, answers, and insights are likely to appear over a longer period; Moreover, some people are even likely to miss vital posts in case the internal social media platform has many new posts on a regular basis.
What kind of communication are internal social media platforms best for?
- Sharing company-related information — you can share any company-related information on the internal social media platform and even combine it with other channels, e.g. post internal blog posts or podcasts there so that everyone knows when fresh content is available;
- Getting employee feedback — you can post anything and ask for informal employee feedback;
- Integrating new recruits — internal social media are a great way to integrate new employees, especially in remote work settings
- Discussing anything work-related — employees can ask questions and seek solutions among their colleagues.
Examples of communication conducted via internal social media
- A marketing director uses the company’s internal social media platform to showcase a series of brand-awareness posts she plans to post on the company’s official, public social media accounts, to observe her colleague’s reactions and comments that may mimic the reactions and comments of the real audience the posts will be aimed at;
- A senior member of the sales staff posts concerns about a defective product to get reactions and response from the product development managers;
- An HR manager uses the company’s internal social media platform to welcome new hires.
Specialized channels of communication
In this section, we’ll talk about communication channels that can serve as a supplement to the main communication channels, as they offer specialized functionalities: VoIP technology, video conferencing tools, company wikis, employee feedback systems, project management tools, and document sharing systems.
According to the definition, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a specialized technology that allows people to make phone calls through a broadband Internet connection, instead of through a regular phone line.
Depending on the VoIP service of your choice, you may be able to call other people who use the same VoIP service as you, or you may even be able to call anyone who has a phone number — even if that number is international.
With VoIP technology, the connection between callers may be established between two computers, a computer and a phone, and two phones.
We recognize the following types of VoIP technology:
- Integrated Access a type that mimics traditional phone lines, but expands on them through additional telecommunication features, by integrating VoIP software with an existing phone system;
- SIP Trunks a virtual version of an analog phone line that lets the VoIP users send data over a network;
- Hosted IP PBX a type of VoIP that involves connecting to a cloud-based PBX network via the business’ IP network. The PBX provider has all responsibility for hardware, software, security, and maintenance;
- Managed IP PBX a type of VoIP similar to Hosted IP PBX, with the difference being that the necessary hardware is housed by the business itself.
Popular VoIP software solutions include:
- Google Voice;
- Facebook Messenger.
Equipment you need for VoIP technology
To communicate by using VoIP technology, you may need some of the following equipment:
- IP phone (e.g. conference phones, wireless IP phones, software-based softphones, etc.);
- A smartphone that supports some of the VoIP technology software solutions;
- Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA);
- VoIP Headsets;
- VoIP Router;
- Specialized Hardware for IP PBX;
- VoIP Gateway.
The pros of using VoIP technology for communication
- It may offer video conferencing and texting — some VoIP solutions (such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, among other popular choices) offer the chance to call up any number and set up a video conference with that person, or send them texts, either individually, or in groups;
- Great for international conversations — some VoIP solutions allow you to call up any international number for free;
- Some key free features — unlike traditional phones, some VoIP technology provides features such as conferencing, caller ID, call forwarding and waiting, for free.
The cons of using VoIP technology for communication
- May be a costly solution — depending on the number of users, the equipment you choose, your choice of provider, setup, and features you want, business-directed VoIP Technology can cost between $20 and $1,000+ per month;
- Potentially complicated hardware and/or software setup — depending on the VoIP solution you chose, setting up everything may be complicated;
- Vulnerabilities in security and privacy — Viber, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger are free alternatives to the more complicated VoIP solutions, but they have privacy and security issues that make them unsuitable for transferring sensitive business information;
- The voice and call quality may be lacking — considering that VoIP services depend on your Internet connection, the quality of calls may sometimes be lacking, i.e. you may experience lower voice quality and delays in response;
- You may not answer the call when you need to — as is the case with a traditional phone, unless you are within earshot of the characteristic ringtones of Viber or Skype, you won’t know you need to pick up the call;
- Work-life balance may get blurred — once again, using VoIP options people usually use for personal correspondence (e.g. Viber, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp) for business correspondence may make it difficult for people to switch off after work, which can lead to lower morale, productivity, as well as higher stress levels and a greater chance of burnout.
What kind of communication is VoIP technology best for?
- Business calls for employees on the go — if your company supports “road warriors”, they can remain available for business calls wherever they are through a VoIP app;
- Internal employee communication — instead of relying on regular phone networks, colleagues can reach each other through VoIP;
- Customer calling — you can contact customers via your VoIP number using any device connected to the Internet.
Examples of communication conducted via VoIP technology
- A front-end software developer from Spain using WhatsApp to talk with a back-end software developer from Australia about the small feature change in the finance app they are developing for a client;
- A dermatologist using Viber to call a dermatology nurse practitioner and talk with him about a patient’s skin treatment;
- A sales specialist using Google Hangouts to talk with the sales manager about the demands of a particular client.
Project management tools
Although they are traditionally not considered communication channels, project management tools do help communicate information related to tasks and projects, such as:
- task details;
- project progress;
- reference images and links;
Some of the more popular project management tools rely on the Kanban principle — “boards” represent projects, “cards” represent tasks you can assign to your teammates, and then move across the board to communicate their status.
Other project management features teams usually expect from their project management tools include a Calendar view, Timeline/Gantt view, Reporting options, and integrations with other types of business software.
Project management software
Some of the most popular project management software solutions include:
Equipment you need for project management tools
As is the case with emails and other similar solutions, project management tools require only the equipment you use daily, such as your computer or laptop (in case you are using your project management tools with the Linux, Window, or macOS operating systems) and/or smartphone (in case you are using your project management tools with the iOS or Android operating system).
The pros of using project management tools for communication
- Great for specialized communication — project management tools are an easy and straightforward solution to communicate task/project details and progress to relevant parties.
The cons of using project management tools for communication
- Too narrow in purpose — project management tools are a great supplement to your usual communication channels (one that helps you handle project-related information), but cannot serve as the main solution for internal communication.
What kind of communication is project management software best for?
As mentioned, project management software is used for effective team communication related to specific projects. It provides a unified platform for sharing information related to projects, assigning tasks, scheduling, etc.
Examples of communication handled via project management tools
- The QA and support team using Jira to create tickets from user issues and assign them to individual members of the software development team;
- A sales team in a fashion shop, using Trello to create tasks for ordered items and track their progress from order to delivery;
- A content director in charge of a series of blogs using Basecamp to communicate details about blog topics, such as assignees, deadlines, and reference resources.
Video conferencing tools
Video conferencing tools are software solutions that enable virtual audio and video meetings, which makes them a great option for remote teams. They may also have some additional built-in features, such as screen-sharing and chat.
According to a report disclosed by UC Today, businesses in America host as many as 11 million meetings per day — the global numbers are expected to be much higher.
Video conferencing software
Popular video conferencing software solutions include:
- Google Meet;
- Skype Meet Now;
- Cisco Webex Meetings;
Equipment needed for video conferencing
No special requirements, for the most part.
According to one 2019 report, the devices people use to attend video calls via apps include:
- Laptop or desktop computers, with a share of 77%;
- Conference room equipment, with a share of 34%;
- Mobile phones, with a share of 31%;
- Tablets, with a share of 13%.
The conference room equipment may include specific models of video cameras and microphones, projectors, headphones, and other additional A/V equipment.
People who are working remotely will likely use an external camera (in case the desktop monitor they are using does not have a built-in camera), headphones, and maybe a microphone (in case the headphones they are using don’t have a built-in microphone).
The pros of using video conferencing tools for communication
- A quick and easy replacement for face-to-face communication — most video conferencing tools require you to log into your email account or directly to the app, send/join a link, and you’re ready to talk;
- They allow you to “read” other people’s nonverbal cues — considering that the communicators can see each other, they can observe each others’ body language to get additional information;
- You can add attachments — as a rule, video conferencing software allows you to send quick messages while talking with teammates, or attach images and files.
The cons of using video conferencing tools for communication
- Poor option for documentation — despite most video conferencing apps having a chat option, whatever data you share and discuss here (e.g. links, images, and comments) will be lost as soon as you finish the call;
- Problems with equipment — considering that video conferencing relies on more additional equipment than other communication channels, it’s easier to experience problems while communicating (someone may accidentally be on mute, others may have microphone and/or headphone problems, or there may simply be an Internet connection problem).
What kind of communication are video conferencing tools best for?
- Conducting internal company meetings — video conferencing apps are especially great for meetings in remote and hybrid work environments, where seeing face-to-face is not an option;
- Interviews — online job interviews have become the norm in remote work environments;
- Meet-ups with third parties — whether you’re collaborating with a partner on a project or discussing contract details with a client, video conferencing tools are a great way to connect and save time;
- Training — you can conduct employee training using video chat apps;
- Onboarding — you can fully onboard new employees via video conferencing apps.
Examples of communication conducted via video conferencing tools
- A software development team using Zoom to conduct daily standup meetings;
- The HR department of a company using Google Meet to carry out virtual game nights with employees;
- A bank manager hopping on a quick video call to talk with an account manager currently working from home.
Document sharing systems
Document sharing systems, also known as file sharing apps, present another more specific channel of communication — one you can use to transfer and receive static information, all from one easily accessible place.
However, simply introducing a document sharing system where employees will be able to access relevant information and resources isn’t enough to help people save time and be productive while handling data. As SmallBizTrends reports, a whopping share of 86% of employees says they tend to have difficulties finding the office files they need, when they need them — so, ensuring that the document sharing system is well-organized is the real key to productive use.
Document sharing software
Popular document sharing software includes:
- Google Drive;
- Send Anywhere;
Equipment you need for sharing documents
No special requirements, for the most part.
In case your organization has several connected branch offices and you need to send physical documents back and forth, you may even use a fax machine.
The pros of using document sharing systems for communication
- Great for specialized communication — document sharing systems are an easy and straightforward solution to help you store and share valuable information.
The cons of using document sharing systems for communication
- Too narrow in purpose — document sharing systems, just like project management tools, are a great supplement to your usual communication channels (one that helps you handle documents), but cannot serve as the main solution for internal communication.
What kind of communication are document sharing systems best for?
- Sharing information — you can use these apps for sharing news, statistics, policies, useful material (e.g. PDF books that employees can benefit from), and other kinds of company content;
- Collaborating on a document — file sharing apps are great for when more employees need to collaborate on a document.
Examples of communication conducted via document sharing systems
- A team of sales specialist keeps all the important figures and facts regarding potential leads in a centralized Google Drive where they store and share all data;
- A team of marketing specialists using a centralized document sharing system to share, store, and obtain documents about their website’s marketing analytics across business quarters;
- A group of software developers who individually collect PDF books meant to help improve their programming skills, and then share them with the rest of the team via a document sharing system.
Employee feedback systems
Employee feedback systems (also known as pulse surveys) are another communication channel that are more of a narrow-use supplement to other means of communication.
Namely, they are a specialized software that elicits opinions and thoughts from employees, to better understand whether the said employees feel satisfied at their jobs, as well as how they rate the quality of:
- the communication they have with their colleagues and superiors;
- the professional relationships they have with their colleagues and superiors;
- their work environment on the whole.
The benefits of employee feedback systems lie in the benefits feedback brings to the workplace. Constructive feedback increases efficiency and positivity, and it directs both employees and employers to fulfill the right expectations — having a specific system to provide and receive feedback only increases these benefits.
Employee feedback software
Popular employee feedback systems include:
- Culture Amp;
Equipment you need for employee feedback
No special requirements.
The pros of using employee feedback systems for communication
- An easy way to provide and gather feedback — as a result, you’ll make it easier to improve workflows, communication processes, but also procedures that don’t live up to expectations or are simply not leading the company in the right direction.
The cons of using employee feedback systems for communication
- Too narrow in purpose — just like project management tools and document sharing systems, employee feedback systems are also simply a great supplement to your usual communication channels, but can’t replace the more encompassing solutions for internal communication.
What kind of communication are employee feedback systems best for?
Employee feedback systems have only one purpose, and that is to collect feedback on a variety of subjects, such as:
- Overall workplace satisfaction;
- Employee contentment regarding the management;
- Suggestions for improvements or changes;
- Satisfaction levels pertaining to the company processes, etc.
Examples of communication conducted via employee feedback systems
- A project manager using a specialized employee feedback system to gather feedback from her team about the efficiency of the workflows and procedures they implement on a weekly basis;
- The head of HR using a pulse survey to understand employee’s overall satisfaction, as well as:
- how well they understand what’s expected of them on a regular basis;
- whether they have the materials and equipment they need to perform their duties;
- whether they think they have every opportunity to perform their best.
Company wikis are a specialized type of content management websites that allow users to add and modify content collaboratively — the most famous basis for such websites is Wikipedia, with the difference being that only authorized people (i.e. all employees in a company) can make changes to a company wiki.
Anyone can add new articles and edit existing articles — these texts may be interlinked and usually revolve around company policies, procedures, processes, practices, and other knowledge relevant to the workings of a company.
Company wikis software
Popular software solutions to help you create and maintain company wikis include:
- Confluence by Atlassian;
- Document 360.
Equipment you need for company wikis
No special requirements.
The pros of using company wikis for communication
- Great for documenting important information — you can add any official company information, at any time, as well as store it indefinitely and share it with everyone in the company;
- Easy to make changes — whenever you need to add some new information, you simply need to log into your account and make the necessary changes;
- It’s easy to interconnect data — it’s easy to connect related information, by adding hyperlinks to pages.
The cons of using company wikis for communication
- No content oversight — considering that anyone added to a company wiki can also edit it, it may become difficult to achieve uniformity of the content, and ensure accuracy (which is the problem that also befalls Wikipedia itself);
- They encourage clutter — company wikis are designed to encourage anyone in the company to add new information at any time they want, so the amount of information may grow to such an extent that it will become difficult to find the piece of information you need, when you need it, especially if the said wikis lack proper organization;
- Sharing content may be difficult — to reference a piece of information, you’ll need to use a third-party app to share a link to it.
What kind of communication are company wikis best for?
Company wikis are best used for sharing all kinds of internal information, from policies and procedures to product feature updates and news. It’s a great way to create a shared database collecting the information from all team members, each in their department.
Examples of communication conducted via company wikis
- A customer support team for a time zone app using a company wiki to add and link information about the app’s features, to serve as a future reference in case users have questions concerning those features;
- A healthcare facility keeping all relevant documentation, from research papers to hospital policies, in a wiki software;
- A classroom wiki for professors of a university, to help them share course materials, guides, and other resources among each other;
- A company wiki that serves as a tutorial for apps that are officially prescribed for everyday company workflows.
All-encompassing modern channels of communication
In this section, we’ll talk about team communication apps, as a comprehensive modern solution for internal communication in a business setting that combines all the key characteristics of other popular communication channel types.
Team communication apps
In the end, team communication apps, also known as team chat apps, emerge as one of the best communication channels employees and their superiors can use to handle internal communication processes.
They offer an array of features that often make other types of communication channels listed here obsolete, such as:
- text chat;
- chat rooms;
- topic-related public and private channels;
- audio calls;
- visual attachments;
- document sharing;
- video calls.
Team communication software
Popular team communication software includes:
- Microsoft Teams;
- Pumble, a free Microsoft Teams and Slack alternative;
- Google Chat;
- Troop Messenger;
Equipment needed for team communication apps
As is the case with communication channels such as project management tools, team communication apps require only the equipment you use on a daily basis, such as your computer or laptop (in case you are using your team chat app with the Linux, Window, or macOS operating systems) and/or smartphone (in case you are also using your team chat app with the iOS or Android operating system).
For team communication apps that also offer audio and video calls, you may also want to use external headphones, speakers, and maybe even an external microphone, to improve the quality of various types of communication situations in business.
Team communication apps pros
- They are great for teams who operate remotely — the array of features team communication apps offer is enough to replace most, if not all, means of communication for remote teams;
- They are versatile — as mentioned above, some team communication apps offer an array of communication options, such as chat, video and audio calls, as well as file attachments, which help you exercise all 5 types of communication in one place:
- verbal communication and active listening via audio and video calls;
- nonverbal communication via video calls;
- visual communication via image attachments;
- written communication via direct messages and group messages in public/private channels.
- They can emulate certain social media functionalities — in team chat apps, you can:
- add videos and images as attachments (e.g. movie trailers and memes);
- ask random questions (e.g. “Who knows a great motorbike repairman in Seattle?”);
- make personal announcements (e.g. weddings, births, and graduations);
- have people post their comments in threads below an original comment, as well as add reactions to everything, in the form of emojis.
- They let you organize data by topics — for example, in Pumble, all newly created workspaces automatically get two public channels (#random and #general), but you can also create other topic-related public and private channels, where you can converse with teammates you add to the said topics;
- They can be a great option for documentation — if you use Pumble, you’ll be able to access your entire message history for free, meaning that you’ll be able to easily access all information you’ve exchanged via chat, at any time;
- They offer instant feedback — the messages you send arrive immediately, and you’re likely to get replies quickly;
- A greater chance the receiver will see the messages immediately — chat apps tend to encourage you to answer as soon as possible, through:
- visual notifications (e.g. you get a desktop notification at the bottom right of your screen or see that the tab where you have the Web app opened has changed color);
- audio notifications (e.g. you hear a ping sound).
- Features that help establish a better work-life balance — your profile will indicate whether you are currently open for communication (e.g. are you “active”/“away” or have snoozed notifications outside of work hours).
Team communication apps cons
- Some solutions may be too complex — some chat apps may be too complex for teams who only seek a limited set of features;
- Some solutions may be costly — some chat apps offer free plans, but with limited features, and upgrades for a large team may be costly;
- They can be a poor option for documentation — some chat apps impose access limitations to chat history (e.g. Slack offers free access to only 10,000 of the most recent messages per workspace), so you’ll lose access to some of your more important instances of a conversation after a while.
What kind of communication are team communication apps best for?
As you can see, depending on the features of a specific team chat app, you can practically use it for all kinds of communication. However, team communication apps are best used for:
- Daily team communication – they are the best and most practical way to communicate with your co-workers and superiors;
- Quick questions and check-ups — when you need an immediate answer, it’s best to use a suitable chat channel or DM a specific colleague or superior and ask for help or guidance;
- Discussions — all kinds of discussions can happen in team chat apps, ranging from talking over ideas for new product features to discussing gift ideas for a team member;
- Announcements — using a team communication app to make announcements is a great idea if you want the announcement to reach everyone as soon as possible;
- Task-specific feedback — if you’re not planning on a detailed performance review and you just want to let your colleagues know how they did on a specific task, you can send them a message on your team chat app.
Examples of communication conducted via team communication apps
- A public channel called #math where the math professor can share links to additional homework material with her students;
- Two customer support specialists charged with solving the problems users encounter while using a marketing app, sending each other direct messages as a means of discussing the latest user ticket;
- A private channel called 🔒internal_medicine where general internists can consult with each other about their patients’ health and treatment;
- A sales specialist sending her sales manager a PDF sales report for the previous month, via attachment;
- A software development team discussing the development of a Chrome extension for their app in a public channel called #dev-plan.
You can turn to various types of official, unofficial, formal, and informal communication channels to handle some or all aspects of communication in business.
The traditional channels of communication offer familiar, but often outdated or even impractical solutions — especially in the modern age, when remote work is in high regard.
The internal variants of popular public systems mimic the practical functionalities of these public systems — but, often offer only one-way communication, making them efficient when it’s time to share information, but not receive timely feedback for it.
Specialized communication channels offer great use through apps with a specialized purpose — but, can be used only as a supplement to your main communication channel, due to their limitations in terms of the features and functionalities they offer.
In the end, team communication apps emerge as the optimal solution that supports all types of communication — they prove their use in various communication situations, and maximize the efficiency of your communication processes as a result.
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