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Which Communications Platform Is Right for Your Team?

Today's managers can choose among many platforms—Slack, Outlook or Zoom, for a start—to communicate with their teams. But they should be deliberate with their choices, lest messages get lost in the shuffle.

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Employees often cite “poor communication” as a prime reason for their frustration at work. But given the vast and expanding options for communication available to today’s workers, the problem is far from a lack of opportunity. Rather, it’s the plethora and inconsistent use of communications options that may stand in the way of clear, efficient exchanges between managers and their team members.

Today’s managers have at their fingertips access to a wide suite of communications platforms. While email has withstood the test of time as the default communications method for many managers, same-time messaging apps such as Teams and Slack are now widespread, although there are still those who prefer to pick up the phone.

Depending on the nature of your industry and your role in it, you may text, email, call and instant-message different members of your team all in the same day. But without a well-thought-out, clearly communicated communications policy and practice, you can spend a good part of each day chasing down answers to critical questions. 

Real-Time Communication Becomes the Norm

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the workplace and drove many employees into home offices, managers were forced to become more deliberate in choosing how best to communicate with their newly relocated team members. Same-time messaging and video platforms quickly became the dominant means of communication in many companies, and that remains the case today.

Before the pandemic, Servicon, a provider of hospital environmental services and commercial cleaning, relied heavily on in-person conversations and email for daily communication. Since many of the company’s employees were essential workers who had to continue cleaning hospitals during the height of the pandemic, Servicon’s managers needed to quickly come up with a faster, more efficient way to share information with their teams.

‘When your employees know what type of communication will be served in a specific place, they will be more inclined to engage, read and retain its information.’ —Hollie Castro

As the company’s headquarters in Culver City, Calif., shut down, and in-person conversations were curtailed, communication among the company’s 2,000 office-based and field employees shifted mostly to email, “which clogged everyone’s inboxes and was hard to manage, especially for our team members who were still out in the field,” says Greg Mahdesian, Servicon’s communications manager. Servicon managers already had access to Microsoft Teams, and it became the company’s go-to mode of communication for collaboration, quick chats and questions. “It certainly isn’t a perfect platform,” Mahdesian says, but “the more people get accustomed to it, the more useful it can be.” 

After the onset of the pandemic, some of Servicon’s employees who were previously located in California moved to different states, including Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. “None of it would have been possible without something like Teams,” Mahdesian says.

Setting Expectations

Hollie Castro, chief people officer at Miro, which is co-headquartered in San Francisco and Amsterdam, says that with the wealth of communications channels available to managers, it’s critical to identify the types of content that should get shared on each channel. “When your employees know what type of communication will be served in a specific place, they will be more inclined to engage, read and retain its information,” Castro says.

Managers at Miro, a provider of a visual collaboration platform, primarily use Slack to communicate with their employees, and Castro says her company is mindful that messages posted to the general announcement channel are timely, relevant and actionable.

Managers shouldn’t take for granted that their employees will automatically know and adhere to an organization’s or a team’s communications preferences, say workplace experts. Rather, managers should proactively set expectations for how they expect their reports to communicate with them and with one another, and which medium they should use for different tasks. Such expectations are more likely to be followed if managers work to obtain buy-in from their staff and then hold them accountable.

Efficiency is obviously of great importance and never something we can ignore, but it cant come at the cost of burnout or invading employees’ time off the clock. —Kevin Miller

Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance (St. Martin’s Press, 2021), recommends that managers designate team members to moderate the various communications channels a team decides to use, so if someone uses email when they should be using Slack, for instance, it’s flagged to help employees develop new habits. Team leaders should also be clear about setting expectations for when responses to communications are expected. With the wealth of information flooding in, says Dhawan, “everyone is triaging.”

Dhawan asserts that “every team is unique,” and she recommends that managers and their teams work together to develop a list of which communications channels work well for their purposes and which do not. The use of tools such as email, Slack, Zoom and text may vary based on the complexity of the information managers and their teams are sharing, the urgency of the message and the frequency of communication, says Dhawan.

When determining what types of communications tools to use within their teams, workplace experts say managers should take into consideration a range of factors:

  • Are your team members remote, hybrid or always expected to be in the office?
  • Are your team members in different time zones?
  • Does your organization or department have a policy regarding off-hours texting or emailing? (If not, should you?)
  • Do you require that team members respond to queries within a specific time frame? 
  • Does your team have frequent deadlines?
  • Are your team members in an office, out in the field, or a combination?
  • How easy is it for team members in the field to access various means of communication?
  • Are your reports expected to work during specific “core hours” each day, or are their workdays more flexible? 

Respecting Boundaries

Kevin Miller, co-founder and chief executive officer at Gr0, a digital marketing and SEO firm in Los Angeles, recommends that managers settle on one or two means of communication with their teams. Everyone at Gr0 relies on Slack and email. “Even our writers with the tightest deadlines and pressure to make or deliver content are only reached via one of those platforms, to keep communication streamlined and respectful of work-life boundaries,” Miller says.

It's important that managers do not abuse the convenience of instant communication. Miller says that while it might seem to make sense to just send a personal text to an employee to quickly get something done, “we opt out of that, prioritizing our employees’ mental health and boundaries above productivity. If we need to send a message, we use the agreed-upon platforms, even if we need to mark it as urgent,” Miller says. “Efficiency is obviously of great importance and never something we can ignore, but it can’t come at the cost of burnout or invading employees’ time off the clock.”

You have to be separated from work sometimes, and with [Teams] you are always connected, which is convenient, but also problematic. —Cara Davis

The same is true at the event marketing platform RainFocus. According to Susan Hanson, the company’s chief people officer, if a communication is sent outside an employee’s work hours, there is no expectation for them to respond immediately. While half of Rainfocus’ 350 employees reside near the company’s headquarters in Lehi, Utah, most work remotely. The other half work in different cities around the country and the world. That makes it important to take various time zones into account when scheduling a virtual meeting, Hanson says.

Like RainFocus, Miro also has employees located around the world, and there is an understanding that they don’t have to respond to communication at the crack of dawn, Castro says. “That really takes a lot of pressure off.”

“Communication has had to evolve so quickly over the past few years,” says Cara Davis, director of continuous improvement for member solutions at Suncoast Credit Union in Tampa, Fla. Davis and her team members all work remotely, and she said she’s reluctant to make use of Teams on personal cellphones. “You have to be separated from work sometimes, and with [Teams] you are always connected, which is convenient, but also problematic.”

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.


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