Choosing the right communication tools for your business

The Internet is flooded with communication tools that are supposed to make life easier for you and your employees, and considering good communication is the founding block for smooth operations, it’s a pretty important decision to make. The main goal of any communication tool is to increase productivity and cut down on the time spent in sorting through emails, texts, and instant messages. While most people will tell you to go with the latest, most cutting-edge tools available, it’s important to evaluate your audience and consider what will be most convenient and acceptable to them as well. Banks, for example, have quite specific mandates in terms of compliance and regulations and would not want their employees discussing accounts on WeChat or sharing information on Slack. Similarly, organizations involved in health care and medicine have various regulatory bodies to appease and probably wouldn’t want their employees discussing patient-related information on Microsoft Teams or Yammer.

Interface and integration

Once you get past regulations, compliance and getting to know your “audience,” the most important features of communication tools are how easy they are to use, and how quick (and preferably painless) they are to adopt. The last thing you want is to spend money on a tool and then be forced to spend more money on training people to use it. Additionally, humans deplore change by nature and though a new tool can hypothetically be imposed on reluctant teams, that doesn’t always go as planned. Even when the learning curve isn’t that steep, there is still some level of what people call “pushback.” One solution is to slowly transition by offering the new tool as a substitute and rewarding teams that switch over. For this to work, however, the new tool needs to not only be easy-to-use but also engaging, fault-tolerant, intuitive, and flexible.

Almost equally important, is how well it integrates with your other tools since most modern digital workplaces encompass several different technologies that employees use daily like Google Drive, GitHub, Bitbucket, Dropbox, and Google Analytics. Some organizations use an intranet for internal communications that they later integrate with other external services like Skype, Google Hangout, or the ones mentioned above. Either way, the communication tool you choose for your organization needs to not only be compatible with the tools and technologies of today but also those of tomorrow. Future compatibility is something that cannot be overlooked, especially since communication tools aren’t something we change or replace very often. Another important thing to consider is how easy it is to get service or support for the tool that you decide to go with. Best practice is to always choose a tool or service that already has a large community supporting it.

Modern requirements

Flickr / tomemrich

Whether you choose an intranet like Microsoft SharePoint or decide to go with a full-scale collaboration platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams, you need to understand your requirements first. Modern teams are way past dealing with emails and messages and often avoid using official software in favor of popular apps that offer audio and video conferencing. Having to carry around data on a USB stick is another thing that modern enterprise employees prefer not to do and having data that is always centrally accessible is a must. Additionally, employees are likely to request access to that data from several different devices and operating systems, so support for different devices and platforms is critical. In the case of hybrid clouds where an environment can consist of multiple clouds and on-premises facilities, users may need to simultaneously interact with public clouds and virtual servers. It’s these more “modern” requirements that are driving the majority of enterprise organizations toward collaboration platforms like Teams and Slack.

Modern collaboration platforms take traditional “conference-type” communication to the next level by allowing users to communicate, share documents and give feedback in real-time and across different geographic locations. Other functions include project management, scheduling tools, progress visualization charts, bug tracking, version control, task assignment, and online storage. Collaboration software also has the added advantage of providing users with a single platform to work on as opposed to an assortment of different tools and services. It’s quite often the case that an employee will use one tool to communicate with one department and a different tool to communicate with another. As the number of departments and tools increases, this system can get quite complicated and unsustainable. Additionally, adding more and more services to an already burdened stack of traditional communication tools can lead to major “blind-spots.” These can be avoided by using a single platform to streamline internal communications and make sure all involved teams are on the same page at all times.

Security considerations with communication tools

Wikimedia

One major concern when it comes to collaboration is security and user access. When you have thousands of different users accessing information, sharing ideas, downloading files and having video conferences, it’s pretty hard to ensure the proper handling of secure data. Communication tools are especially vulnerable because well, they communicate. In a recent attack, hackers used Slack’s ability to communicate to post output from commands and upload stolen files to the cloud. While a patch for the vulnerability did exist, this was another case of negligence and outdated software. Additionally, collaboration tools aren’t as secure as we would like to think and at some point, or the other our data does pass through public networks that aren’t 100 percent secure. This is why we need to proactively look for services with features like encryption and multifactor authentication, as well as modern security tools that are built to deal with complex collaboration platforms.

As mentioned earlier, compliance is a crucial issue for a lot of organizations, especially with the number of regulatory bodies in existence today. You don’t even have to be dealing with credit card numbers or bank account details to cause an infraction any more, even simple information like names and phone numbers are considered sensitive in some sectors. Security standards may also vary geographically and this can be hard to keep track of when teams are collaborating from different locations. In the case where data is accessed across borders or jurisdictions, appropriate security regulations need to be met to avoid serious infractions. This is why security needs to be built into the culture and instilled in every employee from the ground up. When everyone is held accountable for security, it becomes everyone’s business and only then will it be completely safe to collaborate over public networks.

Communication tools: More is not necessarily better

With cloud computing, BYOD, collaboration, and communication where it is today, choosing communication tools is a lot like choosing a first programming language. While you definitely want something that’s going to be easy to use and doesn’t involve a steep learning curve, you also want features like cross-platform and device capability, stability, security, data storage, and user access management. All the best communication tools feature real-time access and feedback so that users don’t waste time and have immediate access to input on their script. Last but not least, avoid linking up too many independent communication tools as this can cause collaboration complexity and serious information gaps. Ideally, use the fewest number of tools as possible to collaborate as a simple stack of tools is a lot easier to use and adopt.

Featured image: Pexels

Twain Taylor

My interests lie in DevOps, IoT, and cloud applications. I began my career in tech B2B marketing at Google India, after which I headed marketing for multiple startups. Today, I consult with companies in The Valley on their content marketing initiatives, and write for tech journals.

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Twain Taylor

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