Communication Channel Code

This is about "what goes where?", i.e. which channel should you use to communicate in a particular situation or context.

How do we determine which channel or medium to use for the job?

The answer – and exploring how we can approach it – has provided me with some interesting insights into the mechanics of what we have to deal with on a daily basis. Not knowing, or understanding, what goes where, can easily sabotage the whole endeavour.

Let’s look at what’s involved and how we can evaluate each situation in order to get make a clear choice.

Premise

You can determine the appropriate communication medium using the Communication Channel Code.

In my mind, what I’m calling the Communication Channel Code 1 , is something like a flowchart, that I haven’t managed to draw yet. Let me explain.

Scope and Definition

What do we mean by …?

Communication: I am concerned with the active / sending, not the passive / receiving part or communication.

Channel: Then, by channel I mean all ways and media you can use to send information.

Code: And, lastly, code used in the sense that it should be an easy-to-follow and simple tool to reach its given premise.

Type of Communication

To get a basic orientation first, we can distinguish three types of communication as part of this model 2 . We are looking at the function or intent of what you send.

  • You provide information.
  • You collect information.
  • You delegate work.

Delegating work is simple. When tasks are involved, meaning whenever something needs to be done, use the task manager. Depending on the tool of choice, you should be able to inform teammates about what needs to be done as well as what you are working on within the task managment system you are using. Check our Task Manager Guide for details.

Collecting information is a fancy way of saying “asking questions”. With questions we have to quickly take a look at some of the mentioned filters and criteria.

Providing information is often times the hardest part. You want to make sure, apart from choosing the appropriate channel, that you are using the General Principles as a guideline here.

Even though these "types" might often be mixed, they rarely have to be. To distinguishbetween and separate them in this way reflects the General Principles of Tight Operations: It is an example of going out of your way to be clear and make it easier for the other(s).

Split things up if necessary (as part of formatting); have the part which is providing information separate from the delegating or collecting portion.

Filters and Criteria

Urgent?

Not all communication is urgent. In fact, we often overestimate its actual urgency.

The more urgent the communication is, the more direct of a channel is appropriate. Basically, if it’s urgent, you might need to interrupt people. And that is exactly what needs to be balanced: You pay for urgency with interruption; and you should understand whether or not you are getting a good deal.

See this graphic which gives you an idea of how much interruption cost is involved in each communication channel.

asynchronous and direct communication channels

Even though urgency may have a slight negative connotation, the term is appropriate.

Please differentiate between urgency and priority. Priority has to do with how important something is. Urgency is the result of evaluating how immediate or soon you need the recipient(s) to take note or (re-)act.

Single or Group?

Am I addressing an individual, a small group (team) or a larger group (whole company)?

Transient or Reference?

Is there, foreseeably, the need of having access to this information at a later point in time (by yourself or by the team)? Depending on your answer some communication channels will be more appropriate than others.

There is a wide range from a short message that has lost all of its importance a few minutes later up to documenting and creating reference material for years to come.

Complex or Simple?

Complexity should be avoided – or contained: Formatting and structuring, splitting things up in smaller chunks, these are your tools to counteract complexity.

Unfortunately, the world is rather complex. TightOps can’t fix that entirely (yet).

All I want to bring attention to, is this: You should be aware of complexity in your communication. Try to take the recipient’s point of view. What would be the easiest medium to absorb and understand what you want to convey?

If you need a lot of back and forth, that also counts as complexity in the sense that it complicates your communication. If it’s simple and rather one-way, an instant message or email will do. If you anticipate having a vivid discussion, that will direct your choice to other channels.

Channels

As you might expect, we have a number of media or channels to choose from. I will also add how they relate to the filters and criteria I mentioned.

Direct Channels

The direct channels are, naturally, all suitable for urgent matters.

Telephone or Video Call

  • single
  • appropriate for complex (back and forth)
  • transient

Video Call / Meeting (possibly including screen sharing)

  • (single to) small group
  • appropriate for complex (back and forth)
  • transient

Instant Messenger / Chat

  • simple
  • single to small group
  • transient

Asynchronous Channels

If you’re not in a hurry, choose from this list. Also, the asynchronous channels tend to be great for more reference vs transient information.

  • Email (/ Memo)
    • single, small group, or large group
    • complex (possibly with added media)
    • (transient to) reference
  • Task Manager
    • single, team
    • simple to complex (with reference material added)
    • reference
  • Screencast
    • single, small group, or large group
    • simple to complex
    • reference
  • Calendar 3
    • single to small group
    • simple
    • reference

Bringing it all together – the Code

OK, now that we have established the elements of this game, let’s see what we can make of it.

Insight 1
Urgency is a major decision point. Not only will it exclude certain channels, but it will also come with a cost: Interruption.

Insight 2
What’s urgent more often than not is also transient. Or, to look at it the other way around: reference material needs the more "stable", asynchronous communication channels.


  1. “Always avoid alliterations”, right? 

  2. If you have an example that doesn’t fit these given types, please let me know at nico@tightoperations.com

  3. The calendar is not that big of a communication channel. But it is the tool to use for scheduling.