How to Decide When It’s Time to Chat, Call, or Do Video


Media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.”

Could there ever be a time when this observation was more on point?

All modes of communication have their strengths and weaknesses, and how and when you choose to use chat, voice or video can make or break the effectiveness of your message delivery.

For example, an email knows no physical boundaries and can be shot off to a recipient on the other side of the world in an instant, but how many times have you pushed “send,” only to realize what you said was inaccurate, confusing, open to misinterpretation or worse – had a slew of attached messages that you never intended your recipient to view?

In person, the same sentence might come across entirely differently with a wink and a smile to clue in the person with whom you’re conversing that you mean to be funny or ironic. And you never have to worry what you said in a prior conversation to a third party accidentally being included in your face-to-face encounter.

In today’s business environment, we have so many communication options that would make even McLuhan’s head spin: social, mobile, and workplace team messaging via chat tools, plus video calling and screen sharing. As Barry Schwartz explains in his TED talk, The Paradox of Choice, having more choices doesn’t always feel better if we let them overwhelm and distract us.

The trick is to take charge of our choices.

Every good trick has shortcuts, so to help you figure out what mode of communication will operate on all levels necessary to get your point made accurately, efficiently and effectively, here are crucial points of differentiation to consider when choosing how best to communicate at work.

When to Chat

While email is certainly an option, it’s being used less and less for a variety of reasons, from “the tyranny of the inbox” to the stilted, formal aspect of it that makes it also not the best way to communicate something time sensitive. One of the advantages of chat is that it’s not only real-time, it’s more conversational, so two or more people chatting in a group have an opportunity to clear up potential misunderstandings sooner (as in the example of the easily misunderstood email).

Now that workplace team messaging tools are commonplace, chat is literally at your fingertips and is a major productivity booster.

Here’s when it’s best to chat:

  • Real-time exchanges, especially when you need a quick answer/update in the moment.
  • When you want to pick up a conversation later, and need a record of what was already discussed.
  • When you are chatting with a full team of people. With most persistent messaging tools, conversations are sorted by team so the members can not only catch up on them later and pick up where the last person left off, but recipients also can prioritize how closely they need to follow conversations related to different projects, departments, or business processes.
  • Team chat is also great for continual communication throughout the day with the members of all the teams you’re active in. Many team messaging tools show you at a glance the most up-to-date information and also whether you’ve been specifically called out with an @ mention.
  • Sharing “hot off the presses” information with coworkers and colleagues. This can be a link to the source (i.e., a media mention of your company) or one that goes to the entire document saved on a cloud service like Google Drive or Box. (Again, the best team messaging platforms include integrations with popular third party providers.)
  • When you need timely updates on projects and open sharing of information. When used to its potential, chat takes the place of a lot of business calls and meetings (not to mention replacing most of your internal email communication). That’s a win in anyone’s book.

When to Call

Although video is becoming more common in the workplace, the one-on-one phone call is a very familiar mode of communication that most people are comfortable with and still use when needed.

Here’s when a good old-fashioned phone call works best:

  • When you want to make a personal, emotional connection – and you’re not in the mood to hop on video. (Because video makes that same connection!)
  • When you want to take the opportunity to explain yourself in detail and address questions, objections, and misunderstandings at the speed of normal talking (typing takes longer). This works well for complex problems or when facing important decisions.
  • When the person you need to talk to is out and about, and chat or video is not an option (i.e. that person is driving, rushing to make a flight, etc.)

When to Meet on Video

Video takes collaboration to the next level – it has the ease of chat and the personal connection of a phone call that can help clarify your tone and intention, while also allowing interpersonal communication and nonverbal cues to give a richer context to the information you’re conveying. Again, the best persistent messaging platforms support video chat.

It’s a good time to use video when:

  • You want to see the other person face-to-face, in real-time, without having to run out and meet with him/her.
  • When you want to share screens, so that together you can analyze documents or project details. Sharing screens and showing yourself on camera, by the way, are two separate things, and most applications will allow you to have an audio call and screen sharing active while the video camera itself is turned off.
  • When you want to bond with your team members. This is especially important for remote workers and contractors – not only does it reinforce your connection, but it also promotes better interpersonal communication and cuts down on miscommunication.

Now that you have a cheat sheet on when it’s best to use chat, call or video, you can make informed decisions that support your productivity and communication effectiveness.

McLuhan also said, “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” We’d love to hear more in the comments about how persistent messaging and all of its applications – chat, calling and video – shape your work day.


About Author

Paul Comaroto is a workplace productivity expert. He is the product marketing manager for RingCentral Glip, a leading team messaging and collaboration tool. Paul works closely with organizations to understand and overcome their productivity challenges. He began his career as an officer in the US Air Force and is now passionate about helping people and teams reach peak productivity.

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