8 Communication Channels in the Workplace (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Clear and direct communication is essential for business as it allows important information to reach the intended recipients. An organisation that has effective communication channels is more likely to see improvements in collaboration, teamwork, decision-making, productivity and efficiency. If you'd like to realise organisational gains in these competencies, it's important to understand what media are available to you and how you can optimise each one.

In this article, we define communication channels, discuss the eight primary channels of communication and provide tips to optimise your use of these channels in the workplace.

Related: 15 Ways on How to Communicate Effectively at the Workplace

What are communication channels?

Communication channels are methods by which one person communicates with another. There are a couple of ways in which you can categorise these channels. One is via the method of information conveyance, namely:

  • Verbal: Verbal communication refers to two or more individuals communicating via spoken language.

  • Written: Written communication is when individuals communicate with printed messages.

  • Nonverbal: Nonverbal communication takes place through unarticulated cues, such as body language.

Another manner of categorisation concerns the nature of the message you want to send. In that regard, you might acknowledge the following:

  • Formal channels: Communication via formal channels concerns business matters and usually follows a well-defined chain of command or occurs through recognised organisational media. Examples of formal channels include presentations, company-wide memos, periodic reports, business plans, proposals and newsletters.

  • Informal channels: Communication through informal channels is also business-related, but it features relaxed codes of conduct compared to formal channels. Common examples of informal channels are brief emails seeking information, in-office queries and business conversations over lunch.

  • Unofficial channels: Unofficial channels are for issues unrelated to business, which are important for building workplace relationships. Examples include idle conversations about current events, recreations and hobbies.

Related: 10 Helpful Tips for Communication Skills in the Workplace

8 communication channels in the workplace

Here are eight of the primary communication channels used in the workplace:

1. Face-to-face conversation

A face-to-face conversation is a type of in-person communication that can take place through formal, informal and unofficial channels. Usually, it takes place between a small number of people, such that the speaker can identify and acknowledge each person. It's appropriate for both short and long discussions.

Though it's a verbal form of communication, face-to-face conversations also involve nonverbal cues. Facial expressions, hand gestures and posture are important for conveying both a message and abstract qualities such as authority.

2. Phone calls

Phone calls are another form of verbal communication that can be formal, informal and unofficial. They're best for quick requests or retrievals of messages. With a phone call, you can clear up confusion or convey new information across long distances.

Phone calls lack the nonverbal cues of face-to-face conversations but are effective for impromptu chats, time-sensitive discussions or brief follow-ups. It's also possible to allow multiple people to take part in a phone conversation, whether through an analogue handset or computer software.

3. Video conferencing

Video conferencing combines the advantages of both face-to-face conversations and phone calls. It allows for communication that includes both verbal and nonverbal cues, which helps to create a more personal interaction. Video conferencing platforms often include features such as cloud storage, file-sharing and call recording, so you can review calls for quality and training.

Video conferencing can be an excellent way to stay in touch with team members who might live in different parts of the world. Because of this characteristic, it's especially useful for workforces that include remote employees.

Related: Working from Home vs. Working from the Office: An Overview

4. Text messaging

Text messaging is a written form of communication conveyed through mobile phones. Used for business discussions, text messages are usually informal. They're effective for conveying quick bits of information, so employees and supervisors have the information required to perform their duties. Because they're written communications, you can easily reference them as necessary. Additionally, they allow for a visual element since you can attach photos and other images. Text messages may not be appropriate for longer-form interactions, though, because of the relatively slow pace of the medium.

Text messaging is useful as an unofficial communication channel as well. Teams often create group chats to remain in contact with one another on a social level. This implementation of the channel can facilitate the creation and maintenance of workplace affinity groups and clubs, so it may be useful for employee engagement.

5. Instant messaging

Instant messaging serves much of the same function as text messages but with a faster pace and more seamless integration into work operations. Organisations commonly instal dedicated instant-messaging applications onto office computers or instruct their employees to download specific software onto their personal devices. These applications allow teams to communicate instantly and directly with one another. They can increase overall communication between team members and ensure everyone is up-to-date on key information.

Like text messages, instant-messaging platforms can serve a useful social function. Employees can engage with one another throughout the workday. Though the social utility of instant messaging doesn't directly raise productivity, it can help to maintain a positive work environment and high morale, which can indirectly improve performance.

6. Email

Email is an important communication channel for various types of conveyance. Emails can be short or long. They can include attachments and are easy to organise in storage. Both urgent and non-urgent topics are suitable for this medium, and the ability to send messages to multiple recipients makes it a highly efficient form of communication.

A potential downside to email is that it may be challenging to ensure that recipients open, read and understand the contents of the message. Organisations can mitigate this kind of information loss by establishing email etiquette protocols that govern best practices for writing and responding to emails.

Related: How to Write an Email for Requesting Something (With Tips)

7. Printed documents

Printed business documents are another common communication channel for employees, managers and executives. These include but aren't limited to:

  • company and HR policy documents

  • benefits forms

  • legal guidelines

  • newsletters

  • policy updates

With the prevalence of email, printed documents are becoming less common. They remain useful, though, for ensuring the visibility of a message. For example, supervisors often display printed documents in a common area so employees can easily view the information in passing or while performing other duties. This particular method of sharing printed documents also helps to reduce printing costs.

8. Social media

Businesses commonly use social media to stay in contact with customers. It helps not only to communicate information about new products and services but also to increase brand awareness.

Social media can also be useful for formal, informal and unofficial internal communications. Individual teams within an organisation may set up group pages to post announcements. Team members can also ask their supervisors or colleagues questions and receive support.

Tips for optimising communication channels in the workplace

Optimising communication channels in the workplace means taking measures to convey information via the appropriate method and with the proper approach. Here are some tips to help you:

Consider the nature of your message

Reflecting on the purpose and urgency of your message can help you select the right channel of communication. To determine the nature of your message, ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is the message formal or informal? If it's formal, heed your organisation's protocol for conveying it. If it's informal, you can use a more relaxed method of communication.

  • Is the message time-sensitive? If so, you may want to consider a more immediate communication channel, such as a telephone call or face-to-face interaction.

  • Is the message complex? If it requires detailed explanations and visual aids, your best options are likely those that allow the recipient to review the information on their own time, such as an email, memo or letter.

  • Does the message require future referencing? If it's necessary to create an easily traceable record, written channels are usually preferable.

Think about the recipient

Another important consideration is the person receiving the communication. Asking yourself what their preferences are can help you choose the best method of conveyance. For example, people who are usually quite busy or don't express themselves well verbally might better appreciate receiving communications through written channels. In contrast, those who rely on nonverbal cues would probably do better with in-person channels.

Reflect on your workplace culture

Workplace culture refers to the unique character of a professional environment. It encompasses myriad factors, including the organisation's rules, its values and the preferences of its leaders. In some workplaces, the culture extends to the way they communicate. Some might explicitly value face-to-face interaction above all other methods, in which case you may focus most of your communications through that medium.

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