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Using technology to communicate at work

It’s critical to consider whether technology can deliver the true intent of your message. Because when it comes to communication, ambiguity can be a problem in the workplace. If you’re not direct and to the point, the other person is left to fill in the blanks. Now, take the face-to-face out of the equation, and the problem often worsens.

Before shooting off an email, text, or instant message, make sure you’re using each form of technology appropriately in your workplace.

Emails

Email is probably the preferred way for most people to send instructions, explanations, and other forms of communication in the workplace. It takes a matter of minutes to type out a request, set up a meeting, or attach a document — with the added bonus of giving you a digital record of your interchange.

But with all that practicality comes a burden or two. Email is much slower than other forms of communication. It also requires you to go into more detail, and the added text can keep recipients from reading it in-depth. What’s more, it’s next to impossible to convey tone, so you must choose your words wisely or chance a misunderstanding.

If you do decide email can deliver the intent of your message, we recommend the following:

  • Make the subject line clear. Think of your email as an article, and the subject line is its headline. The recipient should be able to read the subject line and glean what exactly to expect from the text. Be specific.
  • Position key information toward the top. When writing the actual body of the email, place all pertinent information at the top of the message. You shouldn’t make readers dig for relevant instructions, explanations, or requests.
  • Include clear actionable items. When an email requires an action of the recipient, always include the five “Ws:” who, what, where, when, and why. It removes most of the ambiguity from the request. If you need a proposal on your desk by 5:00 P.M. for an offsite client meeting in the morning, there’s no reason not to explain that.
  • Provide all necessary information. For any correspondence that requires an action, provide the recipient the materials needed to complete the task or respond to your inquiry. No one should have to request additional information from you other than a potential clarification to one of your points.
  • Avoid unnecessary CCing. All too often people CC other employees on emails that don’t need to see the correspondence. Not only does this clutter inboxes, but it can come off as a lack of trust in the person’s ability to complete the request. Only CC someone when it’s a necessity.

Texts

For business communication, texting is only appropriate if it’s part of a company’s culture. A company that values efficiency may prefer its associates text one another to maintain the momentum of a project. Another company, on the other hand, may not permit the texting of official business communications — with the exception of maybe a change in meeting times or locations.

When texting is an acceptable form of communication at an employer, we suggest:

  • Beware of abbreviations. Not a lot can be said in 160 characters, so people tend to use abbreviations to save space. This isn’t always appropriate and can come off as too casual for work. Only abbreviate those phrases or words that the recipient would be familiar with, like FYI or ETA. Spell out all others.
  • Reserve emojis for friends. We love emojis just as much as the next person. But like abbreviations, they’re not really appropriate for workplace communication. Even in the most casual of work environments, think twice before including one of these emoticons at the end of your text.
  • Double-check the text. Autocorrect fails are great fodder for the Internet. But the reverse is true for the workplace. The last thing you want to do is insult or offend a colleague. Check and then recheck your text messages before hitting send. Do the same for those voice-to-text messages as well.
  • Stick with the positives. Being a casual form of communication, avoid delivering bad news via text. Negative feedback can easily be misconstrued as a joke, and you’ll just have to state it again. If something negative (or constructive, for that matter) must be said, take the time to do it face to face.
  • Observe proper texting etiquette. Just because your phone is out of sight doesn’t mean no one knows what you’re doing. Texting under the table during a meeting is distracting to everyone else in the room. Put it away and give the speaker your undivided attention.

Instant Messages

Like texting, instant messaging is a fairly efficient form of communication. It’s even in the name. You open up an online chat and get an instant message right back. But there’s etiquette to using this form of communication, and much of it is somewhat similar to that of email — with a few additional caveats:

  • Greet the recipient. Because you’re entering a live chat, you should always greet the recipient, and then ask if now is a good time to chat. If not, ask when’s a good time to follow up.
  • Keep the interchange short. If the recipient needs to think about the response or get back to you at a later date, an IM may not be the best channel for your message. This channel is often best used for quick interchanges.
  • Watch your abbreviations. With its similarity to texting, there comes a natural inclination to abbreviate messages. The same rule applies here, so spell out all words or phrases that the recipient would be unfamiliar with.
  • Avoid using it in place of a text. IM may be quick and easy, but not everyone is at his or her desk at all times. If you need to change a meeting time or venue, don’t send it through an IM. Call or text — if company policy allows.
  • Sign off. When the conversation is done, sign off with a closing remark, such as “Thank you” or “Talk later.” You don’t want to disrupt someone’s work further by making him or her think the conversation is still open.

Regardless of your preference for communication, it’s always up to the company whether one channel is used more than the others. Then, always be mindful of how you choose to use that technology. Your correspondence can affect the trajectory of your career just as much as any other factor.

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