3 considerations to choose the right communication channel

Workers rely on unified communications as a service to interact with colleagues and external contacts. But knowing which app to use to communicate most effectively is a challenge.

A key challenge determining the business value of collaboration platforms, like unified communications as a service, is how to quantify the effect on productivity. Work styles can be highly personal, and the definition of productivity is highly subjective. Prior to the advent of UC, workers relied on a handful of standalone communications applications to support their needs, and their usage was situation-specific. Some tasks were best handled by email, others by phone and yet others by messaging.

UCaaS is engineered so that all apps work seamlessly on a common platform, making it easier for workers to use a multichannel approach to get things done. As UCaaS adoption has grown, so has the number of offerings, and to remain competitive, vendors keep adding applications to their platforms. This more-is-better approach may make the platforms more enticing for buyers, but the reality is that end users have too many tools to manage.

Choosing the right communication channel

Most workers can only multitask to a limited degree. Past a certain point, having more applications does not make users more productive. Cloud-based technology makes it easy and cost-effective to add features to UCaaS. But workers can get overwhelmed, and that leads to wasted time and inefficiency. Not every call needs to be video-based, and it's not a competition to see who can use the greatest number of apps to bump up productivity.

Regardless of the UCaaS platform an organization adopts, the underlying technology and the supported applications are not the issue. What drives productivity is how well workers use these applications, and this is largely dependent on knowing which tools to use for each set of needs. Rather than focus on what the technology can or cannot do, workers should embrace some best practices to help them select the right tools and apps for the task at hand.

Let's examine three considerations for choosing the right communication channel for everyday workplace needs and which mode of communication is most effective for each one. Take these suggestions as broad guidance. Most businesses have multigenerational workplaces, and communications styles vary widely by demographic groupings.

This more-is-better approach may make the platforms more enticing for buyers, but the reality is that end users have too many tools to manage.

1. One-on-one versus group-based work

Some jobs require a lot of group work, while others are mostly desk-based and interactions with co-workers are largely one to one. UCaaS would have less of an effect on the desk-based jobs. Here, workstyles -- as well as the communications tools that work best -- are well established. These workers rely on applications that are easy to use and practical for the task at hand. Namely, email or messaging for short communications and telephony for more involved needs. In these cases, video provides little added benefit, and it would not be widely used.

Increasingly, however, group work has become more prevalent, and UCaaS is particularly useful for supporting distributed teams. With the rise of hybrid work, video plays a larger role in helping everyone feel part of the team. Its immersive nature, however, demands more effort than a phone call or an email, giving rise to video fatigue. Because UCaaS gives all workers easy access to video and meeting tools, which wasn't the case previously, the temptation is there to make video the default, even if just having a one-on-one conversation.

With all the options UCaaS provides workers, the best results come by making mindful choices when working in groups. Group chats or shared workspaces can be sufficient for most tasks, whereas video meetings should only be used when group interaction matters, such as kicking off a project or reviewing final results.

2. Formal versus informal

This issue has less to do with technology and is more about etiquette and how to communicate appropriately. Today's technology has made communication easier but also less formal. Our lives in general are much less formal now. With so many people now working from home, fewer social cues guide workplace behavior.

Younger workers have only known informal norms for the workplace, whereas digital immigrants came up in a more formal, structured environment. If those distinctions aren't specifically laid out, it becomes more difficult for both older and younger generations to behave and communicate appropriately.

Workplace norms may be more fluid now, yet workers need to know where lines fall. When communicating upward in the organization, for example, informal channels, like text messaging or chat, aren't likely appropriate. If using email to communicate with a prospective customer, care should be taken to use professional language rather than the colloquial terms or acronyms employed in more casual messages. If someone on the team is underperforming, direct communication through phone or video call is better than a loosely worded email.

The diversified tool set from UCaaS gives workers a lot of choice, but when working in a professional environment, the distinction between formal and informal matters. It's easy to overlook that dividing line when working from home. Being effective means using the right applications in the right way based on the level of formality required.

3. Transactional versus collaborative

This overlaps the two other considerations, but it's another area that affects choosing the right communications tool. UCaaS adds value by letting workers use multiple apps concurrently. That's helpful for collaborative types of work. The greater the number of team members involved with a project, the greater the need for this capability. As teams become larger and more distributed and as projects become more complex and time-sensitive, the value of UCaaS increases.

Many teams are also partially, if not fully, virtual. They need tools that are a good proxy for in-person collaboration. This is where video helps, especially if the project is visual by nature, such as with design or building work. Otherwise, text-based communication is ineffective and lead to wasted time. Not every interaction requires video, but it plays a key role for virtual teams to collaborate.

Collaborative work also lends itself well to multichannel communication, where teams need fluid workflows, especially if on a deadline. UCaaS shines here as well, where workers can use multiple tools on the fly, such as doing chat in a backchannel with the team while talking to a customer on the phone and then file sharing to fine-tune a presentation. The mix of tools is situation-specific, and the main idea here is that UCaaS provides flexibility to work this way.

Conversely, workers need to communicate differently for more transactional needs. All jobs have this to some degree, such as confirming receipt of a document, approving a work order or accepting a meeting invite. AI is now becoming part of the UCaaS value proposition, and one of its use cases is automating transactional, routine forms of communication. Until that time comes, workers have to manage these needs on their own. Effectiveness here means distinguishing between transactional and collaborative modes and, for the former, using simple channels -- email and messaging -- to get that job done.

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