I just finished sitting through a Project Management Professional boot camp. During the course, I came across an interesting formula regarding the potential communication channels one will have concerning the total project team. I won’t bore you with the formula, but there is not a linear relationship with the number of people and the number of communication paths. Having 8 people that you need to communicate with could cause up to 28 different communication paths. When you consider different communication styles and tooling you have at your disposal, you can start to see where it could get out of hand.
One can spend a ton of time communicating (or trying to communicate) with colleagues. In the interest of trying to grab some of your time back, I have listed out a few tips on how I use communication channels. I recommend these guidelines as it saves me time and head ache daily. If you adopt this or something like this, you will be taking another step towards owning your time.
email should be used when you do not need an immediate response. Before sending an email, the sender should ask, “Can I wait a day for the answer?” If the answer is yes, email should be used here. It allows for the recipient to check and respond at their own pace. Which we can appreciate as we are often the recipient of email request as well. If it can’t wait, don’t use email. Use one of the other communication platforms listed below. Make sure, to be honest with yourself on the question! It’s easy to abuse urgency, and that will break the trust of those who are participating in the standard. In other words, this will fail to be an adopted standard.
This is a more urgent communication platform that should be used when you need a quick answer, but you don’t need someone to stop what they are doing and answer immediately. If the answer can wait 15 to 30 mins use IM. The agreement should be that as the recipient wraps up what they are currently working on, they will not start anything else until they have gotten back to you.
This should be used at the most urgent level. When you call someone, you are basically asking them to stop what they are doing and answer the phone. Make sure this is necessary. Breaking someone out of the flow without a good reason should always be avoided. If it happens too often, people will start avoiding the call assuming what they are working on is more important. This completely defeats the standard creation/adoption.
Face to Face
There are a lot of scenarios that in person communication is a preferred method. Whether you need an immediate response or you just casually want to chat about something, in-person communication is a great community builder. However, you have to be careful. Casually talking with someone is still an interruption despite the good intention. That type of distraction could be very disruptive to the others flow. To avoid this, you can try experimenting with “Do not Disturb” signs or if you are looking for the more friendly version “Please Disturb” signs. As for urgent in-person communication, make sure they are actually at their desk before you start the walk. Searching for someone in a building regarding an Urgent issue is counterproductive and wasteful. If you are unsure if they are at their desk, start with a phone call.
These are found in the newer tools like Slack, Spark, or Teams. These provide a mix between email and IM based on their functionality. If you want to update the group, just post something to the group channel, and they will read it at their leisure. This is often used in place of a long email chain and particularly helpful to project teams. However, it can also be utilized in a more urgent manner. If you need people to respond as soon as they have wrapped up their current task, these tools offer a tag feature that will notify the individual that they have a specific pending message for them. This acts like the instant message because you can address the individual or the entire channel within the chat group. If it needs immediate attention, the phone is the best route again.
These guidelines are not perfect, and there will always be exceptions. Obviously, those who work outside of your organization won’t have this basic training, and that will occasionally throw things off a bit. However, if you can roll this out at to even a few people around you, you will start seeing an immediate impact. Focus will be up, and distractions will be down. I guarantee it.
I hope you enjoyed the content and good luck training your teams. There was a little culture shock from my team so be prepared for a potential hurdle. If you would like to chat about this more or have differing recommendations, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Thanks!