You cannot “not” communicate – but so many people seem to do so when on business travel.

Communications expert Paul Watzlawick ascertains the question is simply: “how do we want to communicate with each other?” It can be particularly difficult on business travels to remain in efficient contact with colleagues. Good communication is the paramount requirement for a harmonious working relationship. We reveal how to avoid common blunders and choose the right means of communication for each situation.

E-mail or Telephone? Deciding made Easy!

According to the media richness theory by Robert H. Lengel and Richard L. Daft, the choice of the communication medium should always be based on the complexity of the task. That means the more difficult and technical the task, the more comprehensive and versatile the communication medium. The theory refers to collaborative tasks, such as decisions, votes or other tasks that require feedback. An efficient selection means that unnecessary complications are bypassed, as well as avoiding accompanying misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

Rice, R.E.: Task Analysability, Use of New Media, and Effectiveness: A Multi-Site Exploration of Media Richness. In: Organization Science, 1992, S. 475-500.

Rice, R.E.: Task Analysability, Use of New Media, and Effectiveness: A Multi-Site Exploration of Media Richness. In: Organization Science, 1992, S. 475-500.

As the figure states, e-mails are the correct medium for less complex tasks: appointments, polls and simple questions which need little discussion or feedback can easily be finalized via e-mail. Personal discussions, workshops and meetings are the means of choice when it comes to solving more complex tasks. When on business travels, the following should be concrete: simple questions can be asked and answered via e-mail, text message or an internal messaging system. Anything which needs urgent clarification can commence via phone or live chat, with the help of video conferencing in complex areas; or in dire situations: face to face.

Spoilt for Choice: E-Mail, To-Do List or Instant Message?

Not an easy question! All three are optimally adaptable for simple tasks. But how do you know what the right choice is? The following pros and cons have emerged from working practice:

  • E-Mails don’t disturb the receiver during their workflow. That means they’re not suitable for urgent messages. If there’s praise or criticism to be offered; it should best be done in person to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Instant Messaging (IM) is suitable for quick communication, such as short notes or simple task decisions. Don’t use IM for the insignificant – you’ll quickly be brandished as a nuisance; and don’t mention any crucial topics either.
  • Collaborative To-Do Lists are short and crisp. They force the author to be precise, as well as saving time. All tasks are visible with just a glimpse. It’s the best solution once complex tasks have been agreed upon in person or via conference call, as well as simple tasks that don’t need clarification. Collaborative to-do lists can be created using many project management tools. With online time tracking from TimeTac, not only can you collaborate on to-do lists, but you can also record the time allocated to those different tasks.

Information is Everything

Communication on business travels usually means communication over a long distance. In order to overcome this distance, we help ourselves to the latest communication methods at hand. Ensure that your team members have access to your time plan while you’re on your business travels, using a collaborative online calendar for example. Be aware of possible time shifts, and arrange before your departure how you want to stay in contact with your colleagues.

Most important is that you remember not to overwhelm colleagues with documents and e-mails. It will lead to more questions than solutions. If you have to distribute a complex task, it’s best to do so via video conference: you’ve instantly created a face-to-face discussion and misunderstandings can be cleared in a matter of minutes.