There are many ways to communicate with our virtual colleagues: face to face, video, email, group chat, telephone, social media. But each form of communication has its pros and cons. While those pros and cons are fairly obvious, it’s good to take a step back every once in a while and reevaluate how we communicate with each other in various scenarios.

“Stick to the facts online and save the complicated emotional stuff for a higher bandwidth channel like face to face or video.” – Peter Hilton, consultant at Signavio

Communication channel pros and cons


Face-to-face is, by far, the most powerful and efficient form of communication. We can use all the senses. We can interrupt each other. But what happens when we can’t be in the same room together? Then what do we do?

  • PROs
    • we can see each other.
    • there can be many of us talking in the same room together.
    • it’s easy to interrupt each other and talk over each other (sometimes good, and sometimes not).
    • it’s much easier to sit around a table with a group of people for a long period of time without getting fatigued. We need to take more breaks online than we do in person.
    • we don’t need any tech so we don’t have the tech challenges that plague remote teams.
  • CONs
    • we often have to travel to be face-to-face with people.
    • there can be significant stress when things catch you by surprise, when the conversation gets heated, or if you  have a contentious relationship with the person(s) at the table.

After face-to-face, video calls are the next best thing. We can still see and hear each other – and any good video tool will allow you to share screens.

  • PROs
    • we can still see each other and use visual cues.
    • we can eliminate travel time.
    • it helps eliminate hierarchy and power. Everyone is the same size and that fancy furniture matters less.
  • CONs
    • there are technical challenges with software and hardware.
    • we need a great internet connection.
    • can’t make proper eye contact.
    • we need a quiet background. If you have a call with a lot of people, there can be a lot of background noise.
    • we ideally want to have good lighting.
    • it can be hard to schedule a mutually agreeable time.
    • it can be hard to interrupt each other during a video call.
    • if you’re in a long video meeting, you can get “virtual fatigue” if you don’t take enough breaks.

If we don’t have enough bandwidth or if we’re still in our pajamas then a phone call is the way to go.

  • PROs
    • accessibility. Almost everyone has a phone and knows how to use it.
    • phone calls are fast, efficient, and quick.
  • CONS
    • we can’t see each other.
    • phone calls can be an interruption.
    • there’s no record of the conversation.
    • if there is a group of people on a telephone call, it’s difficult to hear each other and often people are multi-tasking. It’s hard to know when other’s want to speak.

Ah, email. A blessing and a curse. So easy and flexible, and so pervasive.

  • PROs
    • easy and convenient.
    • flexible response time. We can send emails whenever we want, and we can respond whenever we want.
    • we can exactly craft the message we want others to read.
    • we can send attachments.
    • we have a “paper trail”
  • CONs
    • because emails are so easy to send, we can get flooded with them, and it can quickly become overwhelming.
    • spam.
    • it’s difficult to know the exact “tone” of a message when it’s written.
GROUP CHAT (Slack, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Stride, etc)

Group chat, email’s more sophisticated sibling. A far more efficient way to have group conversations, but do you really need to know everything?

  • PROs
    • you can have large group conversations.
    • you can have transparent conversations. Instead of cc’ing a bunch of people, you just post information in the appropriate channel, and everyone in that channel can see it.
    • messages are quick and usually relatively short
    • people can decide which channels they want to belong to and which information is relevant for them.
    • it allows for asynchronous conversation and that is very powerful on virtual teams.
    • it’s easy to keep conversations organized.
    • we have a “paper trail”
    • it feels more relaxed and less formal than email.
  • CONs
    • it can be information overload. If you subscribe to too many channels, you can be bombarded with information. The challenge of group chat systems is managing your channels and notifications.
    • it’s difficult to know the exact “tone” of a message when it’s written.
    • it’s difficult to separate work life from personal life (depending on the tool you are using). Conversations tend to continue later and later.
    • it can be 24/7 if we let it. Conversations tend to continue later and later.
  • PROs
    • ability to reach a wide-reaching, global audience. Social media is a great way to distribute information
    • it’s easy to network and e-meet people.
    • ability to have public conversations.
  • CONs
    • there are trolls everywhere.

The pros and cons of communication are fairly obvious, and we intuitively know all of this, but it’s good to remind ourselves what forms of communication will best serve our purposes.

“If your house is on fire, you’re not going to email the fire department.” – Beat Buhlmann, General Manager for EMEA at Evernote

Most importantly, if you find your conversation feeling stuck, try another medium just to change up the pros and cons.



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