Matching Communication and Collaboration Tools to the MessageNovember 8, 2007 at 3:42 pm | Posted in Attention Management, collaboration, communication, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments
I spoke last week at a conference about how users make decisions between e-mail, IM, wikis, workspaces, the telephone, and other methods of communication and collaboration. I’ve seen many articles on when to use e-mail versus an IM, when to pick up the phone, what collaborative workspaces like SharePoint are good for, and they all seemed to be missing something, so I set about codifying my views on this topic into my presentation.
The point of my presentation is that there is an increase in web 2.0-like web content, communication and collaboration channels/workspaces and a corresponding increase in confusion about how to select among them. Ineffective communication and lack of collaboration caused by using the wrong channel or workspace can result in poorer understanding and decisions among the participants. Decisions about which tool to use are often made based on expediency, availability, and familiarity rather than productivity. This is natural and can never be fully optimized for productivity. But individuals and organizations can do more to increase productivity by encouraging appropriate use of channels and workspaces.
So what I’ve attached below is the “poster” version of the guidance I gave on deciding which communication or collaboration technology to use depending on the circumstances. It is just a starting point though – each organization may have a different set of tools or common usage. And there is still debate within my own team of how things should show up on this chart (hence “document libraries” appearing in two spots), so it should be taken as my personal best attempt at this guidance and not a formal, peer reviewed, locked down decision tree.
Some background is in order though: I don’t expect anyone to whip out this chart (or any guidance like it) every time they’re about to send an e-mail. You can only expect this guidance to affect systematic communicators (like corporate communications or HR groups that send important, polished messages to many people as part of their jobs) or those in training. There are certain “teachable moments” when guidance like this is accepted and has a chance of sinking in. Just emailing it out to the department out of the blue is likely to have zero effect (or worse since future attempts at guidance are more likely to be ignored as well).
The main point of the chart is that message senders should learn to distinguish between collaboration / communication and synchronous / asynchronous. It’s important for the guidelines you give to remain realistic and flexible, particularly with informal interactions which should not slavishly follow the flow chart. You should customize these guidelines based on the industry, environment, and role while leaving room for situational factors (like sensitivity of the message). And finally, try to understand and minimize barriers to proper tool usage where possible, such as by making sure information workers have easy access to and feel comfortable with the tools so that lack of familiarity doesn’t come into play when making tool decisions.
So, with no further ado, here is the chart I presented (click on the thumbnail for a full-sized version):