Now where did I see that information I need for my meeting in five minutes? Was it in an invite, a text, a Slack, an email? Did I dream it? You didn’t get my message? I texted you. I Slacked you. Are you not on that channel? I put it on Teams. Did you check your email? And now that we’re in the meeting, it seems like not everyone got my information. Maybe we’re all suffering from the same chaos of modern communications.

Sometimes the plethora of business communication tools available today can be downright confounding. Especially if you remember the good old days when people checked their email and chat was something you did over the phone or in the conference room.

The fact is that the way we communicate has evolved drastically in the last five years and will likely change even more in the next. According to a 2023 Gartner report, the average knowledge worker uses 11 different apps each day.

It is a challenge that just about everyone faces. However, as consultants for a range of organizations and varying projects, we deal with this proliferation firsthand. And while there is no single answer to sorting it all out, we thought we’d share some insights and a few tips that might help you on the path to better communication.

So, what’s changed?

It used to be that there were not enough communication tools to do what you wanted to do in managing business project communications. Nowadays, it seems like there are too many—as we mentioned above.

Along with the onslaught of different tools, the social norm for how team members, executives and project consultants communicate has also shifted. Business communications used to be more straightforward. Now we must decide things like what to put in direct messages versus collaboration tools versus correspondence.

The expectations of how and when colleagues respond to communications have also changed with the expanse of messaging options. We no longer expect a quick response to emails, but do consider texts a more immediate exchange. If you text someone, it is fairly personal and the expectation is that you are listening to that person. For chat tools, it depends on whether the person you are messaging is on-line when you reach out. If not, we expect a less immediate reaction.

Navigating the onslaught of options

So how do you successfully navigate through the growing maze of tools and approaches to business communications? Ironically, establishing the framework for effective communications requires communication. Most often, you are not the one choosing the tools being used and the methodology. Your challenge is to be flexible and adapt to make the most of the options set forth by clients and colleagues. Here are some highlights of what we’ve discovered can help.

1. Assess tools, uses and tone of communications

One of the first things you should do at the outset of joining a new team or starting a project is to ask stakeholders about their communication preferences. What tools do they use? Who has access and how do they intersect? Which teams use which platforms and channels for which purposes? Do we need to be aware of the way individual senior executives expect to be engaged? Take the time to learn about the company culture and how it impacts communications.

2. Make communication strategy a team priority

As a member or leader of a team, work to establish guiding principles for communication and collaboration early. What will you use to meet online, send messages, collaborate and share documents? Check in frequently to see how things are going? What is working? Are there ways to improve? Often, when doing project retrospectives at the end of an engagement, we find ourselves discussing our communication strategy. When we think of something that didn’t go well, we trace the root cause back to communication issues. When we think of what we are most proud of, we often recall something related to bringing a team together with good communication processes.

3. Get good at using tools effectively

Thoroughly educate yourself on the selected tools and how they work. In particular, get good at searching each tool so you can find key past exchanges when you need to. Learn to use AI tools for searching your communication platforms. With multiple tools in use, it is easy to forget just where a particular point was communicated to whom.

4. Continuously adjust—read the room

Watch how the different teams and communication approaches work as the project unfolds. Whoever you are working with, learn their way of working. You will not only save a lot of time; you will also avoid annoying stakeholders. In other words, you have to be really good at reading the room.

Be aware of communication gaps and address them. If a communication goes back and forth three times without getting results, suggest you do an informal meeting on a video call to talk through issues. Overall, if you feel like you’re not being heard, think about what choices you’re making on communication venues and whether what you’re doing is not in sync with the norms of your organization. Most importantly, talk to people and ask questions.

Communicating is still an art

As you adapt your messaging and collaboration strategies for different organizations and teams, remember the one constant of communication is establishing personal relationships and making adjustments for the individual styles of those involved. The bottom line is communication tools may have changed, but the art of communicating has not.

Jennifer Oliveira and Jennifer Ellis are both senior consultants at Vizionara with more than two decades of IT experience.