Project Management

How Communication Channels Matter

From the Eye on the Workforce Blog
Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

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In today's work environments, we should be adept at receiving, understanding and acting on communications via different channels, right? (Different channels being emails, face-to-face, telephone conversations and voice mail and so on.) I remember seeing guidance for older workers telling them not to be surprised to receive communications via text message from their younger boss. We are really evolving away from the need for constant face-to-face contact, aren't we?

To get a little more clarity on this, a team of researchers conducted a study of digital communications between supervisors and employees. The researchers were looking to see if "more digitally centered communication satisfies employee's needs regarding the communication with their supervisors and influences attitudes toward the supervisor and the job." That's a good objective because as project managers, we want to ensure that our communication is effective and that it helps (and motivates) project teams and workers to complete their tasks as expected.

In the study, the research team has employees evaluate communication quantity and quality, and even report on ideal use of communication channels. They measured three things:

  • Employees’ job satisfaction
  • Employees’ perceptions of their supervisors’ effectiveness
  • Employees’ team identification

Here's a summary of what they found:

  • Employees prefer face-to-face communication over email and telephone.
  • Employees studied desired more face-to-face communication with their supervisors than they actually received.
  • The more face-to-face communication that occurred between supervisors and employees, the more the employees had higher job satisfaction and team identification. The employees were also more likely to see their supervisor as more effective. There was a strong correlation in all three areas.

So project managers who are also supervisors of workers, take note. There appears to be good evidence for you to prioritize face-to-face contact. Could be good for your career.

Let me suggest that these results are also instructive for project managers who are not direct supervisors. A future study may find that there is not as strong a correlation for "dotted line" project manager communications, but I would wager that project managers who prioritize face-to-face communications over email and telephone are seen as more effective and have project teams with higher job satisfaction and team identification.

It is up to you to find appropriate times to switch to face-to-face communications. Consider the following:

  • Routine meetings that typically use conference line - change all or significant occurrences to face-to-face meetings
  • Weekly phone meetings with key teams or individuals - find a conference room or use video conference
  • Long, detailed emails typically sent out to distribution lists - evaluate whether topic is important or complex enough to warrant an initial face-to-face session to focus attention of busy participants
  • Take special precautions to involve those who, for logistics reasons, cannot attend face-to-face meetings with the rest of team. The more important face-to-face meetings are, the more disadvantaged are those who cannot participate.

Perhaps those who are trying to use digital communications to become more efficient are not seeing the drawbacks. You can take a more wise course knowing the results of this study. The toughest part may be justifying the expense of face-to-face meetings and video conferences. What do you think?

Posted on: September 20, 2015 11:14 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Thanks you very much Mr. Joe Wynne for this great article.

I also prefer to use face-to-face communication rather than communicating over e-mails or text msgs.

Face to face communication is always having positive effect over your team members' performance and attitude towards you (PM).

I agree. technology can't replace personal (face to face) interaction. The non-verbal part is missing in e-mails. Video Conferencing can at best be a poor substitute for meeting in person. What is surprising is the increasing use of "no=personal" means of communication. Reasons given are that of distance, paucity of time. At least use the phone before sending that e-mail!

In my opinion, nothing can really substitute a face-to-face meeting. But today's workplace reality is different, you just cannot have them as much as you need them. I try to have face-to-face meetings for all important milestones, especially the kick-off. The key for me is, that when I think, that what might not be said is as (or maybe even more) important then what is said (and gets in the minutes), then face-to-face is mandatory. For the more routine meetings phone calls or video conferences are o.K. with a strong preference for video. However, you cannot have too long periods without meeting in person, as you lose the touch to the team and team cohesion.

Yes, Joe. Communications channels matter a lot. Considering that we receive tons of information daily, it is difficult to focus attention. Face-to-face is excellent. However, it is becoming rare due to distributed teams offshore. We have to find out new ways to communicate effectively.

Face-to-face communication is the best way. However, in any organization, it is always a challenge to navigate the complexity and stick to this option fully. I have learnt from my experience that you have to come up with an intelligent mix of different modes of communication. And that is a part of an effective approach. The over-reliance on face-to-face communication makes it lose its edge.

Thank you for this practical Blog Post.
I am agree with all of you that Face-to-Face communication is the best. When we communicate with employees Face-to-Face we can better listen to them. And effective listening is an important factor in communication.

I believe that employees should be treated as people and not objects or numbers. We are people who remain long at work, so it is our second home. As not live well in our second home.

Yes, there's no alternative to face to face meeting. But, as complexities grow due to expansion and other factors; it has become a challenge. Software video conferencing is gaining popularity as a result. It's cheaper and effective.

Always required to define a structure, to know who is communicating what, when, how often, by what means. This optimizes the use of communications and reduce them to the maximum.

goood. like !

Yes, face to face meetings are the most effective way of communication and team building. It's importance can be experienced in case of a virtual team the most.
Thanks Joe.

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- George Bernard Shaw



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