We’ve all heard the phrase “a meeting that could have been an email.” Add in today’s additional methods of communication and you’ll get “a meeting that could have been a Zoom call, that could have been an email, that could have been a phone call, that could have been a text.”
I put this idea out on Twitter and almost immediately people started chiming in on the value of each methodology, the considerations that should be made, and even questions about proper etiquette in today’s world.
An in person meeting. That could’ve been a zoom call. That could’ve been an email.
— Mark Coxon CTS-D, CTS-I (@AVPhenom) November 5, 2020
Given all this, I wanted to try my hand at defining what I see as the best methodology to use based on the outcome desired.
So here it is: my outcome-based guide on how to communicate, when to meet and how.
A disclaimer: When I say email below, I am referencing threaded, written communication. Some may use Slack, Teams, BaseCamp, etc. for these which are tools but for brevity, I’ve used email to describe this type of communication.
Quick Question — Text, IM, DM
It’s timely, personal, can be done discreetly and easily without interrupting other activities and meetings.
Share Information — Email, Prerecorded Video
Information is best reviewed and absorbed asynchronously. If the information is important for later discussion or review, send it ahead of time and require attendees to be prepared to discuss. Think “flipped classroom.”
Clarify Complex Ideas — Phone call
Misunderstandings and miscommunications are often exacerbated by long email chains. Get the parties involved on the phone for an interactive discussion to clarify complex issues.
Internal Coordination — Audio Call With Content, Phone Call
Calls coordinating activities and doing kickoff meetings, etc. should be live and utilize a platform that can share content if needed for review. These meetings are typically process oriented, so video isn’t a must.
Reiterate Action Items, Confirm Decisions — Email
Once complex issues or internal coordination are discussed and solved, then engage via eMail to reiterate next steps and confirm decisions made. eMail is not the best way to discuss and solve issues, but is very helpful in creating threaded communication around key decisions and actions for future reference. Ask each party to reply confirming receipt and agreement.
Interactive Training / Role-Playing —Video Call
Once information has been shared, create an engaging training or role-play session with the team that allows for asking prepared questions, role-playing exercises, etc. to test absorption, cement excitement and model positive examples. Video helps here to break ice as well as for quick bursts of content for review or emphasis.
Create a Forum — In-Person, Video Call
One of the best reasons to meet is to create a forum. I personally like the idea of being together as I believe it helps everyone pick up on mood, tone and body language which are important when seeking the opinions of cross functional teams. However, distance to office, length of discussion, timeliness of decision, etc. may mean a video call is the next best option.
Decision-making — In-Person, Video Call
The second reason to actually meet is to make decisions. I like in-person meetings here for all the reasons listed above in creating a forum, with video calls being a strong backup option. These meetings should follow asynchronous information sharing above and participants need to come prepared. The discussions should focus on sharing personal interpretations of the info and creating a path forward and not reading the information to each other.
Creative Exploration, Brainstorming — In-Person
I’ve listened in on several interviews of companies discussing the short comings of remote work and this inevitably comes up every time. There is an energy that comes from in-person creative meetings that is hard to replicate virtually. Motion hacks the brain. Create a destination for these activities conducive to the outcome at hand and schedule enough time allow ideas to evolve and make the most of any commute that has been invested.
Tours — In-Person, Video Call, Prerecorded Video
I’ve seen tours of showrooms and products done fantastically in all of these ways. If it’s a product demo, lean toward in-person, or if it will be via video, send a sample for them to touch and experience if possible. Don’t underestimate the kinetic impact of touch and feel. If its a new relationship, try in-person or live video to create more rapport.
Team Building — In-Person, Video Call
Building teams and creating personal bonds helps cement reciprocity and accountability. Neurochemical connections are only made in person. That being said, you can form connections virtually as well. My advice is break the pattern. Going from a Zoom call about work to a Zoom happy hour does little to transition peoples mindsets and get them in a social mode. Choose a different platform or format for your virtual team building events than for your daily meetings.
Initial Introduction — Phone Call, Email
For client facing interactions, asking for a video call right away may be too much commitment. I typically send an email and then ask for a phone call to discuss potential fit.
Needs Analysis, Proposal Review — In-Person, Video Call
Creating rapport with a potential client or business partner needs a little higher level of interaction. Tone and mood, slight eye movements, etc may be hard to pick up on via video. I also think there is a ton of value in visiting a client’s place of work to get a feel for their culture and business style. If that isn’t possible, video calls work too. The point here is to establish two-way communication that leverages visual cues and storytelling and an open field for discussion and forging partnerships and alliances.
So that’s my list. I’m sure I missed a hundred scenarios, but they may closely mirror the outcomes desired above. The first thing you have to ask, is “What am I trying to accomplish in this communication? What is the ideal outcome?” and then ask what the is best communication style to achieve it?
Comments welcomed below.