About communication mediums in general, but especially in enterprise

I'd like to give my point of view about the subject of communication mediums in general, It is just a first try on this subject. I will dig communication mediums in enterprise through communication tooling. The goal of this post is to analyse which communication medium should be used for which purpose.

This post is quite general and focused on concepts (even if I am not an expert in the field), I will publish an example of what I mean with an example around tools that can implement what I explain in this post.

Note : I do not talk about how people can change communication according to their behaviour, which is more psychology, I just talk about means, even it is sure that the way you communicate is also an important subject.

I think communication as the main factor of success in any project in general, because a project is rarely a personal one but the one of a community in general (which could be a couple, a team, a service, a department, an enterprise, and so on...). Good communication leads to more efficiency and comprehension.

A quick analysis of common communication mediums

Since I am not an expert in sociology, psychology or communication mediums history, I just give a quick analysis of my understanding of what communication is becoming today.

Our society is called today "information society", because more and more information is exchanged between more and more people.

I see several main technologies that bring us to it:

  • In first days, there were just physical meeting and mail (and carrier pigeon...)
  • The first major discoveries that make evolve communication were radio and phone, which allow long distance communication with voice only (first unidirectional and broadcast, and then bidirectional)
  • Then there was television that allows broadcasting a communication with voice and image
  • And lastly, there were computer, networks and internet that allow to communicate with voice, image, writing...and disclosed to everyone today and with many means (email, chat, community sites, twitter, blogs,...), which makes communication so important in our society

But if we look at the means that are used today, we can see that email has a place of choice in our communications mediums, even more in professional world. Innovation in communications mediums are mainly spread on the internet and mostly by younger people who were born with them.
I think last point is a major reason why communications mediums in entreprise are so badly developed and late, since there, there is people from 20 to 70 years old. But it is time to change our use of technology in entreprise to avoid what I call "email trash for all" syndrom, i.e using your email box as the only "last generation" communications mediums (I do not take in account phone in this category), which leads to too many email boxes with hundreds emails a day...

Some characteristics of communications mediums

I see 3 main characteristics of communications mediums. I do not take them from reading, just from situation analysis, so it must be incomplete. They are important to define in order to analyse how to use which communications medium for which purpose:

  • Delay between messages of a communication
    • Synchronous: the most interactive way, quick message exchanges (ex: phone, face to face conversation)
    • Asynchronous: there is different level of latency in the exchange, from seconds (ex: chat) to months or years (ex: documents that persist...)
  • Basic characteristics
    • Presence: perception of people reactions and feelings, possibility to share concrete material (for example goods, paper documents or board)
    • Sight: perception of some people reactions, possibility to share visual aid
    • Speech: perception of some people reactions, limited expression if you have not sight
    • Dynamic visual aid: people can interactively exchange through it, with two distinct types
      • Free to make any representation (text, graph, diagram, drawing...)
      • Constrained to some representation
    • Static visual aid: people can only exchange asynchronously on it
  • Types of organisation
    • Presentation: very directive, poor interactivity (ex: lecture...)
    • Interactive presentation: restricted number of participants, directed by a leader but more interactive, self-censorship because of the group and given direction by leader (ex: committee, meeting, class...)
    • Group discussion: directed by the group, even more interactive, less self-censorship since there is no imposed direction (ex: workshop, open session...)
    • Face to face: (ex: with your manager, with someone of your staff, interview...)

Given these definitions, I can try to explain why and how communication must not be reduced to meeting, phone and email, especially in entreprise world. Moreover, about meeting, they need more formality and simplicity.

About delay between messages in a communication
, meeting and phone are good mediums for synchronous communications, but email cannot be the only medium for all asynchronous communications! First, because the purpose is too much different between an instant communication and an entreprise directive to be followed for example. Second, because our email boxes are exploding, and I do not believe that search and incoming email rules could be enough to bypass the problem (even if, of course, it is a good practice to use it!)

About basic characteristics, meeting, phone and email combine all of these. However, nowadays, there are more and more distributed teams, and more and more interactions, so these three "old" mediums have to complemented. Solutions exist, just have to implement and distribute it.

About types of organisation, there are all used more or less depending on people involved and on corporate culture. I think there is nothing really new about that. But, what is interesting is to see how they are used, for example: how is a meeting prepared? how are meeting minutes spread? how actions are tracked? And for that, I think we can win in simplicity with new mediums.

Now it's time to see how to implement these principles with real tools. I will propose this in a future post mainly around Microsoft products.