How to pick the right communication method for your businessThe tips below will help you decide what communications tool is best for you, along with advantages and disadvantages of each digital communication type.
Phone ? either desk phone or mobile ? one-to-oneAdvantages: Using the phone is beneficial if you want to talk through ideas or discuss a subject at length. It is more personal and enables you to express yourself and clarify points that may be misconstrued using other communications. You can have a chat socially before talking business and find out how the other person is, which is refreshing in this fast-moving world. Disadvantages: The phone may not be appropriate for a quick resolution and maybe the person is not available so you have to leave a voicemail, and wait for them to return. You want an answer to a question but you cannot physically make a call because it is too noisy or you cannot get reception. Unless you record the call you have no evidence of the communication.
Should I use e-mail?Advantages: Email is good to document and track conversations and activities, and send files to one another or a group of people. Email can be managed from the desktop or on the move from smartphones and iPads. It appears to be the most used form of communication in business ? if not overused. Disadvantages: Everyone seems to use email for every type of communication even when it?s not necessary, therefore clogging up your inbox. Email is not real-time communication, though some people assume it is. People copy you in on irrelevant email trails, again flooding your inbox! Sometimes you may have to wait a while for a reply as for some it is a mammoth task to wade through their cluttered inbox. The volume of emails has increased so much today that automatic filters have been introduced, such as Clutter in Microsoft Outlook, however, this now creates the risk that important emails get filtered out resulting in the need to manage two inboxes.
Instant messagingAdvantages: With instant messaging solutions you can see your colleagues? presence and availability, which is helpful when you require an immediate response. You know when your colleagues are busy and when they are around to help out fast It?s great for quick questions and answers. Disadvantages: Sometimes people ignore the busy notice and send messages that ping and disturb you while in the middle of work or a meeting. The answer is to use the do not disturb option as this conversation doesn?t get sent.
Text messagesAdvantages: Good for quick messages and answers on the move, and who can resist looking at their phone when a message comes through? Disadvantages: People forget to reply.
Video conferencingAdvantages: You can speak to someone or a group of people in another location without having to travel. You can see people?s facial expressions so it?s easier to read reactions of people. Disadvantages: Without sufficient user training, video conferencing systems can be complicated to use. While some people still feel awkward using video altogether, millennials are very much at ease with the technology, so don?t be shy to ask digitally proficient co-workers for a few tips.
Audio conferencingAdvantages: You can speak to someone, or a group of people in another location, without having to travel. Disadvantages: Sometimes when a group of people are talking its hard to tell who is saying what, and also people may talk over each other, not to mention the fact that you never really know if people are fully engaged in the meeting!
Social media ? LinkedIn, Twitter, FacebookAdvantages: You can talk to a group of people and share information, advice and photos, and have discussions. Disadvantages: There are so many different social media sites that it can be difficult to decide which ones to use and to keep up with and they can become a real distraction.
The digital communications mother shipLooking at the different communications tools above we can see that they all have their strengths and weaknesses, and more importantly can be used for different purposes. The answer is to connect them all together into one solution, which is known as a ?unified communications? (UC) or ?unified communications and collaboration? (UC&C) solution. You will need to work with a communications solution provider to discover what your technology requirements are, and how the technology will help meet your business objectives, and then deploy the solution. UC tools, such as Microsoft Skype for Business, Mitel?s Micollab and Avaya?s One-X are a good choice, as they enable you to use a soft phone on any device and integrate with the corporate directory. By making calls over the internet or a business IP network the calls are free of charge. Video and audio conferences can be conducted, desktops and documents shared so email inboxes are not clogged up, instant messages can be sent and different and social media applications integrated. Other solutions are often available in conjunction with your phone system and will help you get the most out of your existing platform. The crux is that these tools are all useful in isolation but together and used correctly, they combine into a powerful communications solution that will make your life easier and make you more productive.
Setting guidelines?for digital communicationBy working with a solution provider you can be sure to receive appropriate strategic and technical advice as well as user training on the tools. As a starting point, companies should speak to employees to find out what communications tools they are already using and which ones they would prefer to be introduced into the work environment, then set some guidelines on how and where to use newly deployed tools. It may be an idea to put some etiquette guidelines in place, for example ?don?t send an instant message when someone is busy. Better to send an email, so they can read it when they are free. Inboxes could be decluttered by not sending files through on email but sharing documents over screen share instead, or by posting internal communications on Yammer rather than distributing these via email.
Speaking on the phone and face-to-faceSome businesses have introduced non-email days for employees for internal communications to encourage employees to pick up the phone and talk to each other face-to-face. This helps to build relationships and develop more social skills but it is worth noting that communications methods are evolving and that each employee is different. Younger generations will instinctively choose to communicate through social media, IM and other forms that older generations may feel less comfortable with, and their preference is to make a phone call. Communication is about inclusivity, so it?s vital to make sure that tools and training are available to take everyone on the journey.
Users are in controlInform your employees that they have the best tools available but this doesn?t mean that communications need to be answered outside work hours, or at the weekends or even on holiday. Technology is only productive and an enabler if you manage it correctly. It is also important to remember that you are in charge of your own destiny so you must own the digital communications tools, and not let them own you! Embrace the latest communications solutions but don?t become a slave to digital technology. Make it work for you and your business, and see the results. This article was originally published on 7 June 2016. Jonathan Sharp is director at Britannic Technologies
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