What level of communication do we really need?

I recently spent a few years working on and selling equipment that allows people to have HD video conferences with the ability to share documents. Then I found myself as part of an elite team of software designers working on mobile applications. Prior to all of that, I have spent the bulk of my career (30+ years) in Telecommunications.

I have been a creator of communications equipment and a user of the same. Last night before going to bed I asked myself, “What level of communication do I really need?”

I thought about this for a while and I think that it depends on the importance of the task. On my current project, the team is quite happy with Skype. It provides easy chat communication for exchanging questions and code snip-its, and it provides an audio bridge ability for scrums. The audio can be sub-optimal especially when designers call in from home, but generally it’s good enough. By grouping designers into different chats, you can ask questions to collections of people and you can separate those people by their areas of expertise. In our case for example, we have an IOS chat and an Android chat.

The team has access to a traditional audio bridge, but they prefer Skype. One thing that I did observe is that the video capabilities that come with Skype are never used. It seems that the team members do not feel that a video channel will convey any additional useful information. This contradicts what video vendors have been saying for some time, but having experienced both options and I would have to say that audio is all I need right now.

So what communications options do we have and when do we use them? It seems that a hierarchy is developing.

Email: When you have information to exchange and you don’t need a real time reply
Text: When a real time reply is required but not at the cost of an interruption.
Phone: When it is important enough to interrupt someone
Video: When it is important to get a visual reaction.

So what does a communication system have to do then? It has to support all of these things. I have discovered that chat groups are very important for information exchange and that is what I currently use the most. Integration with Skype, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all other forms of text messaging is essential. Hands free audio using VoIP would be next, leaving audio, email and video at the end of the list.

I think there is a real opportunity to build a communication system and an associated user interface that addresses these needs. Skype is close and it will get closer, but it’s transport is lacking. This may be less of an issue as the pipes to our homes get bigger, but for the time being, we need to re-focus.

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