Reduce communication overhead through more dynamic channel choice

I routinely use these communication channels when discussing business stuff:
  • In-person meeting
  • Audio (e.g. phone)
  • Video (e.g. Skype)
  • Personal email
  • Mailing list
  • Instant message (e.g. HipChat)
  • Text message
  • Online task manager (e.g. Asana)
  • Public forum (e.g. Github issues)
Using the best channel for a given situation can significantly reduce communication overhead, to the point where channel choice deserves conscious thought each time. It sounds obvious but I see people making the wrong choices all the time. Sometimes it is a selfish choice. Sometimes it was a well-reasoned, but wrong guess. Sometimes it is inertia because that's the way it has been done in the past.
I try to make an educated guess about which channel to use based upon the objective and what I know about how the other people involved use the different channels. Some people simply don't respond to email in a reasonable timeframe, for example. They may not check it often, may not organize it well, may feel they can ignore it, may get writers block frequently -- it doesn't really matter why -- they are simply less responsive there.

The second dynamic choice is to know when to jump channels. If I notice a thread stalling, getting out of hand, or giving other signs of unnecessary communication overhead, I think if we should switch to another channel.

For example, a long threaded asynchronous discussion might need to be upgraded to a more synchronous discussion to get something decided in a desirable time-frame. And in that upgrade situation you further have the choice of various levels of bandwidth (text, audio, video, in-person). These are tradeoffs in upfront time (e.g. scheduling) that can be made up in the end many times over by ensuring everyone has bought into that decision appropriately by the time the meeting is done.

It's more of an art than a science because it involves individual personalities.


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