Is it worth setting up a video call this morning when your coworkers wouldn’t need to change out of their pajamas for a voice call?
There’s a question you probably never thought you’d have to ask yourself at work. But today it’s a real dilemma.
With so many teams working from home today, we’re in an exciting time for remote communication because we have so many options to communicate with. At the same time, it’s increasingly difficult to determine where one communication tool begins and another ends. We’re all still finding the line between when to send an email or a Slack message.
If you’re managing remote workers, how you communicate online has everything to do with your organization’s productivity and motivation. You need to learn the tools you have available and exactly where their strengths and weaknesses lie to communicate with them effectively.
We’ve compiled a list below of some of the best remote communication tools you need to know your way around and their pros and cons when used at work.
Communicating with email
Believe it or not, the first true email communication system was used at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) all the way back in 1965. Back then, everyone who had a computer terminal at the school was hooked up to one mega-computer and messages were sent internally. Since then, it has expanded tremendously in use but still keeps many of the functions and interface it has had since its creation.
It is widely believed email was the biggest driving force behind the creation of the internet we know today.
The pros of email:
- Email is free. Any remote team can get a working email set up in just a couple of minutes.
- Emails are quick. They can be sent anywhere in the world almost instantly.
- Emails archive information. You can always look back on any conversation you’ve had on email without writing anything down or printing it out for a physical file folder. Today’s email systems let you organize your information conveniently in internal folders.
- Emails are ideal for sending files. Today with all-purpose cloud-storage systems like Gmail, a huge range of important files and documents can be sent online no matter the size.
- Everyone has one. Because of its age and utility, you can be pretty sure to get a hold of anyone with the right email.
The cons of email:
- Email can become overwhelming. While normal mail piles up easily, it usually only comes in at one time during the day. Because email is always open and doesn’t take up physical space, it’s easy to get lost under piles of unwanted messages in your inbox you forgot to delete.
- Emails can be lost. Spam filtering can cut down the clutter in your inbox, but it can also accidentally prevent you from viewing important information every time it is sent. This unfortunately makes email unreliable as a sole means of important communication.
- Email can be malicious. Today there are many ways hackers can gain access to your data through email. Many successful schemes today involve hackers gaining entry by faking important information from a coworker. And once they compromise one email in your office, hackers can start sending malicious files through real emails.
- Not optimal for urgent messages. With so many other communication channels, you may not check email every hour. Emergency action items sent through email may not get the reaction time needed.
Working with email
A study conducted via the Human-Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon University found that people who prioritize email all communicate with it similarly:
- They used tactics on email like notifications to make sure they received up-to-the-minute communication.
- They maintained easy access to their archive of messages for later tasks and better information management.
- People with a higher email volume checked their email more frequently and were more active about filing their messages.
Interestingly, the same study found that keeping many email folders and only checking email at specific times was associated with increased feelings of email overload. The best countermeasure to overload was keeping their inbox small.
Communicating with video calls
The pros of video calls
- Better for building connections. Whether meeting coworkers and clients face-to-face or performing small meetings with remote teams, video calls bring the human element back to remote conversation. In fact, a study from the University of Amsterdam found that the visual cues from video chat significantly affected the interactions between students and teachers.
- Cheaper than travel. Because video calls can effectively replace much of face-to-face communication, your organization can spend less on business trips.
- Low cost. Most video conferencing software has free versions (notoriously Zoom). Anyone can use it.
The cons of video calls
- Good versions cost money. If you want quality buffering, unlimited time, and large rooms you’re often going to need to pay a subscription fee.
- Video doesn’t replace everything about face-to-face communication. There is still something of an uncanny valley in video conferencing. Laggy webcams and lack of direct eye contact strip some necessary elements from conversations.
- Video calls require coordination. Video calls are tough to do in the spur of the moment. Especially with everyone working from home. It’s tough for workers to find rooms with good wifi and no background noises/distractions. And many are unable to look presentable for the camera at any given time.
- Face-to-face communication is stressful. The same study from the University of Amsterdam mentioned earlier found that non-native English speakers were drastically more concerned with “face” while using video calls.
Interestingly, messaging was found better when running a language class as there was less stress around navigating social cues and non-native speakers had more time to conduct their thoughts.
-(van der Zwaard 2016)
While it scratches our itch for interaction, video chat may occasionally make communication more difficult due to our instinct for maintaining harmony. Messaging and email give us more time to collect our thoughts before speaking and when we do speak, we are less concerned with immediate reactions from listeners.
Communicating through voice calls
Today we still associate voice calls with the telephone, but the truth is, most of us don’t use phone lines for voice calls anymore; we use apps on our computers and our phones. While the primary tool for remote communication for over a century, the voice call today is just another option and should only be used in specific circumstances.
The pros of voice calls
- Voice calls are good for conveying complex information quickly. If a message is unclear on messenger or email, communication can drag with unnecessary back-and-forth limited to whenever you get a moment to respond. Voice calls with the quick back-and-forth of normal conversation outshine messengers in these situations.
- They can reach almost anyone anywhere. Voice calls are no longer just limited to local phone lines with huge international phone fees. Phone apps today can call anyone in the world on a simple wifi connection and most of them are free.
- They require less coordination than video. As mentioned earlier, hopping on a quick phone call is a much smaller ask for most people compared to a video. You can voice calls anywhere and without worrying about your location and appearance. And most people have easy access to receivers for voice calls. This makes them ideal for emergency communications.
The cons of voice calls
- Voice calls rest in a communications grey area. Today it’s difficult to know when to use a voice call when we have the option to choose a video call or simply use a messenger app. Management today needs to clearly define the situations where voice calls are optimal if an office is to take advantage of them.
- Nonnative speakers suffer. Without the visual cues of video calls and the delayed time of messaging, foreign employees may have difficulty communicating via voice call.
Communicating through messenger apps
Messaging apps appeared suddenly in the past decade and swept every aspect of our communications at work and in the home. Workplaces in nations with a long-standing office culture have made a leisurely transition over to messengers over the past couple of years from our traditional methods like email. In many cases, we’re still phasing them in and out.
Workplaces in regions that have developed more recently like China jumped headfirst into the technology as soon as it became widely available. For us to understand the effects of messaging communications on the workplace, much of the best data currently comes from the East.
Working with messaging apps in the office
Messaging apps provide many unique benefits to your office but can have negative effects if overused.
A 2019 study from the International Journal of Communication on the Chinese app, WeChat, in the workplace found participants appreciated the convenience of communicating quickly online. However, the informality people associate with communication over messenger apps was also noted to seep into the workplace. These apps may also create a time drain for senior staff. According to the experiences of one participant:
As a chief operating officer, Antonia’s presence and active participation in WeChat workgroups were expected because they could encourage her subordinates and help to create a positive atmosphere for internal communication. However, she had to manage her attention so that she could focus on more important tasks at work, which created a paradox of engagement.
(HUANG, ZHANG 2019)
The situation in China with WeChat may be unique as employees frequently use the same profile for business as they use for their personal social media. Outside of China, many companies keep their messaging to platforms specifically meant for business.
The pros of messenger apps
- Great for collaboration. Got a document that needs work? Want to get a quick vote in? Messenger apps are great for fast, large group input and quick updates.
- They put the banter back into work. Messenger apps today also replace one of the essential elements of building office camaraderie: day-to-day banter. These apps are great for sharing the latest news or that funny video you saw today.
- Messengers give people space to think. How you say things is important. Sometimes speaking in person leads to miscommunication and wasted time if you don’t adequately prepare what you will discuss beforehand. Messenger apps give you the ability to communicate quickly with the space to formulate your thoughts.
The cons of messenger apps
- It’s easy to get spread too thin. When managing remote teams you need to quickly decide where the majority of day-to-day interactions happen. There are many different places for people to communicate and many tools today have their own messenger function. Spreading messages everywhere means it’s difficult to keep track of important files.
- Noise. Messenger apps send notifications and often make noises whenever you comment in a shared group. This can get really distracting in the workplace. Employees should not only be encouraged to disconnect from messaging apps during the day, you may want to have them set mandatory times to be away.
- Important stuff can get pushed down quickly. If you drop a big announcement on a message board, it can get sucked to the bottom very quickly under all the new messages. While you can usually pin stuff to the top, you’ll only want to pin one or two messages at a time. Make sure any important announcement also goes out through another reliable channel like email.
- If not properly managed, they can become overly informal. When you send quick messages for work in a similar fashion to texts or in some cases use the same apps, communications can become informal quickly. They may not be best for communicating with clients and important internal communications.
Has your organization considered virtual reality?
If your organization hasn’t started talking about virtual reality yet then you can probably expect it soon.
While it is still in its infancy, VR office places are already being created as a way of covering the extra mile of interaction left uncovered by video calls and messaging.
In some apps on the market today, you can move an avatar around a virtual office and talk through voice chat to coworkers who are in your immediate vicinity. If you want privacy, you can move into a private zone. This may help to bring back some of the casual “water cooler conversations” and spontaneous, collaborative environments that we’ve been missing.
VR is changing training remote teams the most
Simulations really shine for training employees remotely. According to Healthtech Magazine, a 2019 study found that medical students trained through VR were able to carry out some procedures more quickly and accurately than students trained without.
Remote communication isn’t just revitalizing how we train teams, it’s also changing how we hire them too.
Remote work can pipeline talent directly to your organization
Today remote work isn’t just enhancing how teams communicate with each other remotely. It’s also totally redeveloping talent pipelines into the workplace.
Remote internships are a great way to bring in the talent you need to keep your organization modern without spending unnecessary time or money. They let you draw from a global pool of applicants at a lower price point without the hassles of work visas or the logistics of getting interns into the office.
If you’re interested in exactly how a virtual internship can benefit your organization we’re happy to help. At Virtual Internships, we offer a program bringing fresh graduates from top universities and programs around the world connecting them with organizations that need them most.
We offer advisors to our interns to make sure they stay on track and we offer tried and tested program templates to our partner organizations so you don’t have to waste time designing one.
The best part? Our program is completely free to partners that participate today.
Send us your email on our website and let’s talk about how a virtual intern could change your business today.