Communication Channel Generation Gaps: Talk to your friends via SMS; your colleagues via IM/Skype, your parents via email and phones

I work on a lot of different distributed teams, on corporate and non-profit projects. I have been finding it very interesting (and frustrating) to see what channels I have to use to communicate to my various peers.

Channels by environment:

For working in enterprise teams, we rely on audio-conference bridges with 1-800 numbers, file-servers, Sharepoint, Placeware/Live Meeting for sharing desktops, a little bit of Writely, and emailing of Powerpoint slides as our “collaborative workspace.” Yes, it is painful. It is lowest common denominator collaboration (LCDC?) This is one of the areas that I’m hoping to drive a lot more usage of better tools including blogs, wikis, Skype conferencing, and anything else that is actually useful as opposed to cool-but-useless.

For working in startups, since they have no 1-800 numbers or even landlines (!), it tends to be cell phones, Skype for voice and IM and file transfer and chat room, wikis, Writely, and Basecamp.

Working in non-profits tends to mean email and phone. Until we build a wiki workspace, that tends to be it.

Channels by generation:

The other axis of difference is that people from different generations use different tools.


40+: Phone, Email, Fileservers
30-40: IM(MSN/AOL), Plain old telephone,  and Email
20-30: IM(Skype/MSN), Cell, VoIP Land Line with multiple phone numbers
<20: SMS, IM/Skype/MSN

So the result is that if I’m working on a project with a group of people that work in enterprise, small business, startups, and non-profits AND if those people are across a broad range of ages from 20-60, I end up having to drop down to lower common denominator, lowest bandwidth, simplest types of communication in order to stay in touch with everybody. That means…email and phone.

If you want to move the group up the collaborative tool using curve you need to educate them on email groups, Skype, blogs, wikis, screen-sharing and video-conferencing tools….and they may or may not be interested. Many will say, “I just want to work on this project, not fiddle with all of this technology.”

This puts any group into a bit of a bind. Do we use younger/faster/more agile people for the project who can communicate at a higher baud rate in a distributed setting? Or does that just lead to clueless high-speed communication? In other words, a lack of seasoned wisdom? Or do we increase the age ranges and experience on the team, but drop the baud rate and use lower common denominator collaboration tools because there will be more cross-generational discussion and wisdom that at the end of the day will provide much higher return on investment?

Am I the only person noticing this? Or do you all deal with this in your lives?

How many of you are noticing the communications channel generation gaps?