CIOs Want To Know: What’s The Best Way To Communicate?

CIOs want to know how to pick the right tool for communication
CIOs want to know how to pick the right tool for communication Image Credit: Ian O’Byrne

Now that we are all living in the 21st Century, everyone wants to stay in contact with everyone else all the time. The good news is that because of the importance of information technology, there is a wealth of tools that are available to the modern CIO to make this happen. The problem that we are all facing is that it can be very hard to determine which tool everyone should be using. We need to get our teams to use the same tool or else we’re going to have a communications mess on our hands. Given all the choices that we have, what is the right solution for our company?

No Shortage Of Communication Tools

When it comes to ways the CIOs can collaborate with colleagues these days, choosing the right communication tool can be as important as the communication itself. Think of the different things that you can do: send an email, and you might not get a timely reply. Perhaps you post a question in Slack, and you might miss information from a colleague who never checks your team channel. If you schedule a videoconference when a phone call would have sufficed, and you’ll annoy everyone who’s exhausted by living life online. How does the person with the CIO job assess the relative strengths of your communication options, the preferences of colleagues and your own digital skills? Some CIOs are quicker than others to figure out how to leverage the features of the new technologies in platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, Slack, Basecamp and Zoom. When they do this, they can cause friction with co-workers who are slower to adapt. CIOs are expecting people to learn communication etiquette at breakneck speeds. What happens then is that people get frustrated with each other because we don’t know how we ought to be doing it.

The Power Of Email

I think that we all realize that even in this age with a proliferation of tools, email the old standby has a few big advantages. We need to realize that emails almost always get saved and are easy to search, which makes them a good way to send things that need to be referenced quickly. If you are sending out something that is for information only, even today you still can’t beat email. Likewise, it is easy to attach a file to a message, making it a good way for distributing documents or other material. The person with the CIO position realizes that for contacting someone outside of your own organization, email is still the preferred method. It is ubiquitous and has norms that mimic a business letter. Emails allows you to express yourself in a way that feels established.

However, email isn’t great when you’re trying to work in concert with a group. If you are looking for feedback on a document, you would be more likely to post that document in a project-management tool, where co-workers could make comments. If you are trying to collaborate on a project or come to a consensus in a group, email is a poor choice. It can be difficult to keep track of the thread of information and the latest versions of documents, and if someone doesn’t “reply all,” the whole communication chain breaks down.

When To Use Direct Messages

Sending messages in applications like Microsoft Teams and Slack is good when you want to ask quick questions, get task updates and access shared knowledge and files by sending people links. It can also be less formal than email, so you don’t have to spend time writing extended greetings or goodbyes in your notes. However there are lots of things to bear in mind before you start typing. The first thing that you need to be aware of is that channel messages should be short and easy to skim. Direct messaging is not a good place for long conversations, discussing nuanced topics, making time-consuming requests or even giving negative feedback. Those types of communications need the richer communication environments that telephone and videoconference offer. Also keep in mind that messaging can be more disruptive than email, because people assume that an answer is needed quickly. If a CIO is going to interrupt what someone is doing with a direct message, it should be important. If it can wait overnight or even a few hours, email would be a better way to communicate.

Once you decide that the message that you want to send is appropriate for messaging, it is important to identify your audience. Microsoft Teams and Slack enable you to target your message by recipient name, channel topic and user groups. If what you are trying to share is project-related information that is relevant to more than a few people, then this is best shared in dedicated channels instead of sending all of them a direct message. Before you post your message, check the channel to make sure it is still active and that your message fits the channel subject. If you’re writing a response to a previous message that you received, use a thread to separate the discussion, which makes it easier to follow and keeps the channel uncluttered.

Know When To Use Videoconferencing

CIOs know that since the pandemic, many people have discovered the upside of videoconferencing: it lets you have deeper conversations, collaborate in small groups and make presentations to larger ones. The richer and more nuanced your conversation needs to be, the more case there is for making a video call. When delivering either really good news or really bad news, the inflection and facial expressions conveyed in video can enhance the communication over email. Videoconferencing is also a good tool for conveying and discussing complicated information that would otherwise a great deal of back-and-forth email. It is much easier to take turns on a videoconference than it is on a telephone conference call. People often talk over each other due to digital lags on a videoconference. However, it is simpler to figure out who’s talking and to signal that you want to talk.

But there are definite limitations to videoconferencing. When you add a chat and a video gallery of participants to a video call, there is a lot of stimuli, and an extended video meeting can be tiring. And, just like with in-person meetings, the size of the group really does matter. CIOs don’t want to pack them in virtually just because they can. The rule is that most meetings should be a minimum of three to four, a maximum of somewhere between seven and 12. It is possible for videoconferencing to work with a larger group, though, if you have a small number of presenters and then allow questions from the audience. It helps to have a moderator who picks questions out of the chat and spells out specific times that they will pose them to the speaker.

Tool Of Last Resort: The Telephone

Let’s not forget: there are times when it is best to put the screen aside and get back to the basics. Unlike a fancy videoconference, where looks can matter, you don’t have to make sure your appearance and workspace are camera ready which means a less demanding experience for each participant. The telephone is also still the best tool to use for urgent matters that are too complicated for messaging or email. It is also preferred for sensitive conversations that a CIO may not want recorded in text on company platforms. Knowing your company’s policies regarding information retention and privacy will help you decide the best way to contact someone.

What All Of This Means For You

Good communication is the key to a well-run IT department. CIOs understand that they have many different ways that they can enable their team to communicate with each other. The challenge that CIOs are currently facing is that they need to evaluate their options and pick the right tool for the job. In order to do this, we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each tool so that we can make a good decision.

In every office there is an email tool that CIOs can use to communicate with their team. Email is an effective tool because emails can be saved and they can be searched later on. However, email is not the best choice when you are trying to work with a group or when you are trying to get agreement on a document. Direct messages are a good way to get a quick response. However, you have to be careful and not use this tool if you don’t need an immediate response. Videoconferencing allows us to see the people that we are talking to. However, there is so much information that is presented that viewers can easily become overwhelmed. The telephone has traditionally been used for office communications. It is still available to us to use. We need to be careful to only use it when we feel that it’s the best tool for the job.

CIOs are lucky. They’ve never had so many different ways that they can connect with the people who work for them. However, along with this benefit comes the challenge of picking the right tool at the right time. We have to understand that each time that we need to connect with someone, we need to carefully consider what our options for communicating with them are and then make the right decision. If we can get good at doing this, then we can use the available tools to make the right connection each and every time.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that some communication tools should be used together?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

All CIOs know by now that artificial intelligence (AI) is coming. We’ve seen this new technology develop step-by-step over the past few years. Its capabilities have grown and what it can do has started to become a key part of the importance of information technology. AI has started to take hold in everyday consumer products that people talk to. Now what CIOs need to do is to determine where in their business this new AI technology can best be used.