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Most of us belong to teams tasked to achieve common objectives at work. Integral to the success of a team is frequent and unambiguous communications between team members. These communications were easy when everyone worked from the same place. Today with the rise of remote and hybrid work environments things have become complicated. Not only do people work from different physical locations, many even work from different time zones.
Fortunately, technology has risen to the challenge and many new tools have been created to solve the problem of communications between remote teams. Chat and video conferencing apps are the ones most frequently used. But do these apps really facilitate natural and unambiguous work communications, or do they cause stress and loss of productivity? Let us explore.
Chat, the presumed email killer
Before the prevalence of chat as a go-to medium for internal work communication, there was email. Email is free, easy to use and can be used from anywhere in the world. Over 300 billion emails are sent and received every year and the number keeps rising. Everyone can use their own favorite email app as emails are interchangeable. An email sent from Gmail for example can be read and replied to from Microsoft Outlook.
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There are many types of business emails. There are informational emails that provide updates on goods and services purchased & shipped every day. Emails you receive when you purchase something on Amazon for example are informational emails. There are business emails that initiate, continue or conclude business discussions. Then there are internal emails between team members discussing issues related to projects they are working on.
Back in 2014, the founders of Slack had the insight to speed internal work communications. They developed a tool to replace internal emails with chat. Unlike slow emails that you had to wait for someone to respond to, chat is instantaneous. In most cases, there is no need to wait for a reply. Chat no doubt speeded up work communications.
In spite of the success of chat, email is still widely used because chat cannot be used in all instances of work communications. For example, people still prefer to email each other when communicating with someone outside the company, be it a customer or a supplier. Email provides space to think and reply which is critical when dealing with those outside the trusted inner circle.
Stress from fragmented communications
Today it is expected that both chat and email need to be used at work depending on the circumstances. Unfortunately, this has led to fragmented communications that can quickly get overwhelming and hard to manage. Imagine a salesperson receiving an email from a customer inquiring about the status of an ongoing project. The salesperson chats with the technical manager about the status of the work and then updates the customer by email. Since the salesperson uses two different communication systems for the same topic, the conversations get fragmented. She now has to remember to look in both places, chat and emails, to maintain continuity and not forget things. Done many times a day this can get very stressful. Information becomes difficult to find. A lot of time is spent looking for it across multiple silos.
The Power of context from connected discussions
Online discussions need to be as seamless as in-person discussions. A discussion is simply a connected thread of conversations on the same topic. The mediums used for the conversations, be it chat, email, calls or documents, should not create silos. You should be able to connect all the related conversations naturally in one place.
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Once related conversations are connected it is very easy to see the context. Now as you read through the thread of the conversation you can understand what to led to what, who said when and why, and what was decided upon by whom. These details provide the background needed to act on the next step with confidence.
Tools for connected discussions
Unfortunately, entrenched communication software apps do not provide interoperability between dissimilar communication systems. For instance, information from emails cannot be easily shared via chat without using cumbersome copy/paste or email forwards. All of these methods create separate threads of conversations on the same topic, making it hard to put it all together later without relying on memory. This causes stress. So besides having to search for information across communication silos, you now also have the burden of connecting all the dots in your head to see the big picture.
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With the advent of cloud SaaS apps there is no reason to suffer through this stress and loss of productivity. Apps are now available that can bring all communications to one place and automatically connect related conversations in discussions. This reduces wasted time in searches, shows the big picture without additional work or stress, and provides clarity.