Frequency and Modes of Communication

There are various ways of communication. At work, this is often in the form of email, phone call, or by talking directly one on one (either in person or by chat). All modes are important and are to be used differently depending on who you need to communicate to.

Now, let's first discuss how frequently you should communicate to different audiences and what modes of communication you should use.

Frequency of Communication when supervisor/client reached out to you first

When your supervisor or client reaches out to you via email or direct chat, you should

  • respond within minutes (if the email/chat was sent during your work hours)
  • respond within hours (if the email/chat was sent during outside work hours)
    • This means you should check your email/chat 1-2 times a day during the evening
    • During the weekend, you should also check your emails/chat at least 2-3 times a day
  • How different employees/contractors respond
    • C players don't get back promptly. Sometimes they don't even respond to any emails/chats sent to them!
    • B players get back somewhat promptly.
    • A players always answer promptly, even for communications sent during evenings and weekends.

If the supervisor/client sent you instructions on what you need to do, you could respond back with a short note such as 'Noted {{supervisor's name}}'. Not responding back is not an option, especially if the email was just addressed to you.


Scenario 1

You started your first day and your supervisor sent an email addressing you and a few other new employees. It mostly contained information that you already knew. It's been a few hours already and no one has responded back directly to the supervisor so you are thinking it would be weird to respond back, especially as the instruction was clear and you don't have any questions. Plus, the supervisor seems super busy and you don't want to disturb the supervisor.

Scenario 2

You have been assigned a new project where you are to work directly with a client. The new client sent you a 3-page email with new instructions on what you should be done. To fully analyze the information in this 3 page, it would require you to spend at least 2 full working days to research and get back with some thoughtful questions and responses. You have seen in the past how people over-communicate and send too many emails, and you certainly don't want to send lots of emails that seem pointless. You decide to spend 2 full working days really go over the client's email, do some research, and get back to the client with a very thoughtful response. You don't respond to that email immediately. As always, things have taken more time (because you got some other projects to work on and you had some family situations you needed to take care of), and you end up sending an email back in 3 days. Your email is very good though and your client seems happy about the thoughtfulness in that email. You are proud of what you've accomplished, although that email was sent back just a little late.

Scenario 3

Your supervisor manages 50 people in the organization, 7 of whom are direct reports. Others are those that the direct reports supervise. Your supervisor sends a message over Slack to all 50 people in the organization. It also specifically mentioned your name as you were one of the supervisor's direct reports. The message is about 2 paragraphs and was sent over Slack, but it was sent over on Friday evening at 8 pm. It was really more of an announcement and repeated information that you already knew. You were up on Friday evening when you got this message but as it's already weekend and you try to really devote your time over the weekend to your family and your other duties, you decide to not respond until Monday morning. No one at the company is working on the weekends anyway, so you feel it would be safe to respond back on Monday morning. You wake up on Monday morning and the first item you take care of is to send a short message back in the Slack thread. You were the first person to respond!

Scenario 4

Your supervisor sent an email to 50 people in the organization. Your name was not explicitly mentioned. The email was sent at 7:45 AM and you checked your email around 7:53 AM. No one has responded to the email yet. Should you reply all to the thread? Should you even respond to the email as your name wasn't explicitly mentioned?
In the past, you were involved with a company where emails like this, too many people responded with 'Reply all' where you were continuously interrupted by needless communications sent to everyone in the thread. You want to be cautious of everyone's time so you decide that you don't need to reply back to this email thread.

Scenario 5

You are managing a team of 15 people. This is a lot of people to manage but you want to do your best. One early morning you wake up and put a very thoughtful email with clear instructions on what each member of the team must do. You send that email to the group around 6:15 AM on Monday morning. Feeling good about that email and clear directions you are able to give to the team, time passes and it's now 9:08 AM, but no one has directly messaged you back. Maybe it's because it's Monday morning and people are catching up to their emails? You try to be understanding but you're wondering if anyone's paying attention to you.

Frequency of Communication when you reach out to your supervisor/client first

Generally, you can use the following guideline:

  • Communication to your busy supervisor who's managing lots of other projects/employees
    • For unsolicited communication (communication that your supervisor is not expecting), limit this to no more than once a day. (Why? They are busy and want to get updates quickly without having to read several email messages a day from you)
  • Communication to your colleague (someone who's at the same level as you)
    • You can approach them for unsolicited communication (communication they are not expecting) up to a few times a day. 
    • You can chat with them (in person or online) and do it increasingly more as your relationship with your colleague is strengthened.
  • Communication to your client, if you're working on a consulting project
    • As a rule of thumb, give updates daily on the progress, even if an update was not requested. Proactive communication is always good.

Modes of Communication

In terms of when you should write an email, sent a chat, do a phone call, or meet in person (either online or at a physical location), you can use the following guideline:

  1. If your idea/thought can be communicated in a few minutes and what you're wanting from the other side can be provided within minutes of their time, write an email or send a chat. As a rule of thumb, messages in chats will be perceived as less important than messages in emails, especially if the person you're communicating with is extremely busy and already get lots of chats and emails. Of course, this depends on the organizations and your supervisors, but in general, for things you want the supervisor to remember, send it over email. For things, that you're okay for the supervisor to know right now, but where you don't expect the supervisor to remember a few days from now, sending a chat may be fine.
  2. If your idea/thoughts cannot be communicated in a few minutes or what you're wanting from the other side cannot be provided within minutes of their time, schedule a phone call or a meeting. Let them know how much of their time you would need (e.g. 15-minute meeting, 30-minute meeting, etc). In terms of doing a phone call vs a video meeting or meeting in person, when you have important "asks", always try to arrange a meeting where they can see your face. Them, seeing your face, especially if you have a great relationship with them, will soften them and get them to lean on your perspectives more.


Scenario 1

Your supervisor asks you for an update on the project. It has been 3 days since your supervisor asked and you have diligently prepared a comprehensive update on the project. You want to provide this update so you use Slack and send your supervisor about 2 pages of update. This was the first update you sent to your supervisor. It has been 24 hours since you've sent that update but your supervisor hasn't responded back yet.

Scenario 2

Your new supervisor has given you a new project over yesterday's meeting. Most of the instructions were clear, but after you've thought more about the project, you have a lot of questions and comments. You put together an email where you wanted to capture all of these thoughts. The email turns out to be quite long (2.5 pages) but it does now cover everything you wanted to communicate. You send that message on your Friday around 4:25 PM. It's now Saturday and you haven't received any response from the supervisor.

Scenario 3

You have something important to mention to your supervisor. You initially wrote an email, trying to write your message in the most concise manner possible. It turns out to be 3 pages as the message is quite dense and you have a lot of emotions coming out as you write that email. It's an important topic and something you obviously feel emotional about. You try to control your emotions and don't know whether by speaking to your supervisor directly, you will be considered weak or 'emotional'. You decide to send that email to avoid some of the emotional situations that may happen. After all, you don't want to look weak in front of your supervisor.

Scenario 4

You have something very important you want to ask your supervisor. It's about the company situation and how you think the company should go, as you're feeling uneasy about the direction of the company and you want to have a positive influence in the company's direction. Your supervisor does not know yet that you have these thoughts. You decide to email your supervisor with these thoughts. You spend 3 days very carefully drafting that email and you send it over. Your supervisor received it but hasn't responded yet. In fact, it seems like your supervisor is avoiding talking to you 1:1. Did you do something wrong