Email, Messenger, Slack… Oh My! A Survival Guide to Communicating with Your Colleagues
Have you ever read that book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen – a Parents Survival Guide? Well, sometimes I feel like I need a How to Communicate So My Colleagues Will Respond survival guide. Last week, a fellow writer friend was complaining that, while she loves her new job in the marketing department, she loathes having to chase down project owners for approvals. She prefers email but is often asked, “Can’t you just copy it into a WhatsApp text/Slack message?” I realized I’m not alone.
So why can’t the people we work with just read their email, click reply and be done? To begin with, not everyone is looking at their emails all day long. Sure, chances are that their inbox is open on their browser, but that doesn’t mean they’re reading every new email that pops up. Their inboxes may be so overloaded that messages get lost, or maybe they’re stuck in meetings all day, without a chance to sift through the quickly growing pile of emails. Whatever the reason, many people in today’s work world prefer communicating via other channels, such as the quicker, easier chat apps on their phones.
As for me, I’ll admit it—I’m not a millennial and email is still my own go-to communication channel. But I work with lots of different teams and colleagues who prefer and respond more quickly if I approach them in a different way.
01. Communication channels: the long list of options
Here at Wix, we use any and all of the following channels to communicate with each other throughout the workday. The bad news is there’s tons of overlap and very few black and white rules. So what’s the good news? I’ve humbly taken on the mission to create this survival guide to help you wade through the muddled mass of options. Since I work with developers, some of these apps are more technical and may not be used in other types of teams.
Save this list as a reference so the next time you have to contact your colleague with a burning question, you’ll know the best way to get in touch.
02. Google Hangouts
A favorite choice among Wixers. Immediate access to your email contact list means you can quickly locate the person you’re trying to reach. And the mobile app alerts mean they’ll usually respond quickly, even if they just left the office and are on the way to the gym. Conversations are automatically saved and searchable, and it’s easy to copy/paste anything into a message. You can open a Hangout to contact just one person, but you can also create temporary or permanent groups.
Best for: One-on-one or small group conversations that don’t require additional context.
03. Shared Docs
The most common are Google Docs. When you’re collaborating on an article, slideshow or spreadsheet, the best way to communicate your comments is right inside that document. Do your colleagues a favor, however, and write only comments that are directly relevant to the document in that shared space. This isn’t the place to ask if Jenny is free for lunch.
Best for: Collaborating with multiple people on the same document.
The preferred choice for the developers I work with. Includes the option of creating permanent or project-based “channels” and direct messaging between two or more people. Slack can be used across networks so it’s also a great way to communicate with your professional peers who may not work in the same organization or company. You can also copy code snippets into a Slack message.
Best for: Communicating with techy types and for messages that are related to any project with a Slack channel. Also great when working with different teams or organizations outside your company.
05. GitHub comments and issues
A tool developers use to track any communication directly related to a project on GitHub. This is the place where anything and everything related to the code should be tracked and saved along with the project, including comments and questions. You can tag colleagues so they receive a notification when you have a question or need something reviewed.
Best for: Comments and reviews dealing with technical development projects.
Still my favorite—what can I say? The good news for me is that most other communication channels include some form of email notification option. So even if I’m collaborating on a Google Doc, chatting with an outside team on Slack or posting issues on GitHub, I still get all the notifications in my inbox. This helps me track and organize all of my work-related communication in one place with filters, folders and automatic rules. Even Hangout chats are searchable from within my email app and easily saved. The downside to email is that our inboxes can become so inundated with notifications, company-wide announcements, endless ads, etc. that our colleagues may prefer not to even look at their email.
Best for: Communication that needs to be tracked and saved, and requires context and more content than a chat message.
07. Texting/ WhatsApp
When you need a quick answer and you know the person you are trying to reach may not be at their desk. Also useful if you have a group chat for your team and you want to send an update on something temporary like a meeting location or where to have drinks after work today. Despite what my friend’s colleagues are requesting, a text message is not the place for approvals and project-related communications. Also, since these chat apps don’t offer email notifications, old-school communicators like me might miss ‘em!
Best for: Messages with people you already know that don’t need to be saved and don’t need context or much content. Can also be used as a backup to an email that hasn’t been answered.
08. Task tracking apps (like Trello or LeanKit)
For when you are collaborating on a project or task. A great choice if your communication is directly related to a project and your progress has to be tracked. Update a colleague about whether or not you’ll meet a project deliverable on time, but don’t use these apps for conversations or to ask long questions. You can add links, tag coworkers, assign reviewers and, of course, have notifications sent to your email.
Best for: Tracking progress on a group project.
09. Social media
A world unto itself. You know what I’m talking about–Twitter, Facebook messaging, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. For the most part, I’d say that any kind of communication about work should not be taking place over social media.
Best for: Sharing those pics from your office party or post-work drink nights.
To help you decide which communication channel to use, here are some questions to consider:
Who are you trying to communicate with, what is their preferred method and what’s your relationship with them? I was once working on a project with one of the leading engineers in the company and sent something to his email (of course!). Little did I know that he never looks at his inbox because it typically tops off at over 3,000 unread mails. So I learned to use Slack or WhatsApp when working with him.
What is the message about and what’s the goal? If you need approval on something, be sure to use a method that can easily be tracked and stored. If there’s a lot of content, stay away from chat apps like WhatsApp and Hangout. Conversely, if it’s a quick question, there’s no need to write a whole email for a yes or no answer.
Where is the person likely to be? In front of their computer, busy in meetings, at home with their kids, home on a sick day, etc. If they are nowhere near their computer, be sure to use a method that’s not too intrusive, but will show up on their phone.
When do you need a response? Is it during business hours? Do you need a super urgent approval on a document that’s being published today? Are you in the same geographic location? When I need something quickly but also tracked, I’ll write an email and follow up with a WhatsApp or Slack message. Sure, it can be annoying to write the same message twice but when time is of the essence, you have to use what you can.
A Revelation: If you need an answer quickly and urgently, you can also always be really 1990s about it and pick up the phone or actually walk over to someone’s desk to have a face-to-face conversation. Too often, we forget that a phone call or in-person chat is often the most effective and immediate way to get a response, even from a millennial. 🙂 Just make sure to track the answer so you don’t forget.
10. One final note about navigating all these channels of communication:
Knowing which method to use means balancing your own priorities and being considerate of your colleagues, their time and their own communication overload. You know what it’s like to be inundated and your deadline might not be the same as your colleagues. So if it’s important, be persistent but also be kind. Kindness and consideration make an impression—regardless of which communication method you choose.
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Annie Landa Rosen, Technical Writer & Editor at Wix