Everyone faces this dilemma at one point or another: whether to send an email, publish a post in a channel, send a message in a chat or organize a meeting.
We use all of these communication channels, or at least most of them, on everyday basis. And for the most part we have it all figured out. However sometimes it can indeed be tricky. So, let’s find out when to use what once and for all 😉
Why does it matter what to choose: email, chat, channel conversation or a meeting?
Even though if you don’t choose ‘the best’ option it won’t be the end of the world, it is better to have a good understanding of what are the best practices in this regard. It will allow you to stay consistent and give people clear expectations about the urgency, complexity, and other aspects of the message you want to deliver.
The average response time for different communication channels may vary. It depends as well on the purpose of the message, of course. But for the sakes of this blog post let’s say we’re talking about a business email. The research suggests that half of the employees expect to get an email response within 12-24 hours.
That is not necessarily a common thing for all companies: in some cases, people tend to reply within a few minutes when it’s an internal email. What you should pay attention to here is your own company’s culture towards emails.
With the rise of collaboration and messaging platforms, more people and communicating internally through channel posts or chat. If you choose these options, you may expect a quicker response. Chat, in particular, calls for a reply within seconds or minutes.
When choosing a communication channel, it’s important to consider the person/people on the receiving end. Because whatever you choose, they will have to follow you.
The importance of your message and its scope is also something you should keep in mind. Say, you wouldn’t make an important announcement via private messages. This would send the wrong tone and lessen the seriousness of the message. Plus, you’d want to keep it documented and perhaps even gather feedback from the staff. This is something that channel post would be perfect for. A meeting could do the trick as well, but if it doesn’t require everyone’s active involvement it’s better to keep it in a written form.
Now let’s dig deeper into email, channel, chat, and meetings use cases and understand better when to use each.
When it comes to internal communication, emails normally include one or just a few people. Adding numerous recipients is a good practice for newsletters mostly.
Considering that many organizations use collaboration platforms these days, the use of emails internally becomes less topical.
Emails work better with external parties. Say, if you want to send a message to a client or a partner and interactions you normally have with them are not too close (meaning you don’t have a common digital workspace). In this case stick to email.
You may also forward an email you received from an external party to someone in your team or your manager. However, if this email is important for the entire team to know, the best practice is to send it to a channel. For that you’ll just need the channel’s email address if you use Microsoft Teams. The email will appear as a post in that channel.
Channel conversations are becoming increasingly relevant for internal communication and collaboration.
First of all, they are made for broader audience. Everyone in your team will be able to see a conversation in a channel unless it’s shared in a private or shared channel.
If you need only a group of people within your team to get a notification about your message, you can @mention them by name or a tag.
What’s great about channels is that you can stay focused on a specific topic. Normally a team contains several channels based on the topic of the discussion. So, if you stick to the guidelines and always publish updates in relevant channels, all conversations become easy to navigate. As opposed to an email thread, where it can become really messy.
You may also want to use channel threads even with externals. If you create a team and invite guest members there, you may just as well communicate with them through posts to keep everything documented and easily accessible.
Actually, you might not even have to invite them to your team but use shared channels instead. You can learn more about when to use them here.
Chat is most popular for 1:1 communication. It’s more personal than email or channel conversation, the message doesn’t usually follow a specific structure, and the response time tends to be quite short.
There are group chats as well. But then again, they are more private and are not suitable for discussing matters related to work execution. Why? To begin with, it’s hard to keep track of all the messages in a chat once they reach a certain number. If you want to go back to a specific message, that can take quite some time so you lose productivity.
Group chats are best for sharing information during a meeting. In Microsoft Teams, chats for meetings are created automatically. If you record the meeting, the recording and transcripts will appear in the chat. Plus, you can use it to share some resources you’ve mentioned during a meeting, to add notes, and other elements.
Group chats can also be a good idea for discussing a surprise team event or other informal activities of your team.
It’s a bit different with meetings. They are suitable both for internal and external communication, can involve just two people or a thousand, and are good for both formal and informal interactions.
The only thing with meetings is that they can easily get out of hand and become a complete waste of time if not handled properly. You wouldn’t update your team on the project progress through a meeting; a simple post in a channel will be enough.
The basic advice here is this: resort to meetings when other options won’t do. Meetings take quite a bit of time out of everyone’s lives, so you want their number to be as low as possible as they simply distract us from the actual work.
What are the ‘valid’ reasons to have meetings? It can be brainstorming sessions, or discussing complex matters when doing it in written form may cause confusion and misunderstanding. Weekly and monthly team syncs are also valid of course. As well as virtual coffee breaks and team building events if your team is working remotely. Whenever a ‘human touch’ is needed – a meeting it is.
But before scheduling a new meeting, remember what they often say these days: ‘This meeting should have been an email’. Or a channel post for that matter.
Pros and cons of email, channel conversation, chat, and meetings
- – Everyone has it, so it’s easy to reach out to any person
- – Widely used in the business world, making it appropriate for business communication
- – Possibility to track deliverability, opens and clicks
- – Ability to archive
- – Quite formal: requires maintaining a specific message structure and tone
- – The response time can be long
- – Messy for internal collaboration: risks of duplication of data, information loss and lack of conversation structure
- – Spam
- – Conversations stay documented in a single location
- – Structured focused discussions
- – More engagement and knowledge sharing
- – Easy navigation and search
- – A broader reach
- – Ability to @mention the right people/ groups of people
- – Not yet widespread
- – Requires adoption efforts from the organization’s side
- – Suitable mostly for internal communication
- – Response time can be long, especially in asynchronous teams
- – Widespread: easy to reach out
- – Short response time, as a rule
- – Quick and convenient
- – Possibility to add multiple users
- – Private
- – Lack of communication structure: difficult to navigate
- – Not suitable for team collaboration
- – No archiving
- – Constant notifications
- – Easy to set up
- – Ability to adjust the meeting time based on each person’s schedule
- – Fast decision-making
- – Better engagement
- – Requires simultaneity
- – May disrupt focused work
- – Time-consuming
Catalog of Microsoft Teams Use Cases
Discover the most common Microsoft Teams scenarios and use cases! Project Management, Marketing Campaigns, Sales Deal Room, and much more.
When to use what?
To better understand whether you need to use email, channel conversation, chat or a meeting the best solution is to ask yourself the following questions.
External or internal communication?
For external communication the best option can be email. If it’s a team you work closely with and have a common digital workspace, you may choose a channel conversation.
If it’s internal communication, here are other questions you can ask yourself to make the right decision.
Do I want to talk to someone privately, or does the message relate to a team/ group of people?
If the matter you wish to discuss concerns only you and another person, go for chat.
Team-related issues are better discussed in channel threads.
Complex issues or straight-to-the-point?
If you feel like the message you want to deliver requires complex discussions, engagement, and idea-sharing, it’s best to organize a meeting. This goes bother for internal and external communication.
If you simply want to update your team, ask for feedback or deliver a message that is straight-to-the point, channel conversation might be the way to go.
Of course, these are not universal rules and there might be other nuances. Still, by answering these questions you will be able to better balance among various communication channels.