6.1 Types of Communication

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  1. Identify characteristics and examples of synchronous communication.
  2. Identify characteristics and examples of asynchronous communication.
  3. Identify questions to answer when considering new communications technologies.

Completing a complex project successfully requires good communication among team members. If those team members work in the same building, they can arrange regular meetings, simply stop by each other’s office space to get a quick answer, or even discuss a project informally at other office functions. Many projects are performed by teams that interact primarily through electronic communication and are, therefore, called virtual teams.1 To avoid miscommunication that can harm trust and to include team members in a project culture, the project team needs a plan for communicating reliably and in a timely manner. This planning begins with understanding two major categories of communication.

Synchronous Communications

Image by Paul Hanaoka

If all the parties to the communication are taking part in the exchange at the same time, the communication is synchronous. A telephone or Skype conference call is an example of synchronous communication. The following are examples of synchronous communication:

  • Live meeting. Gathering of team members at the same location.
  • Conference call. A telephone call between two or more individuals where several people participate.
  • Audio conference. Like a conference call, but conducted online using software like Skype.
  • Computer-assisted conference. Audio conference with a connection between computers that can display a document or spreadsheet that can be edited by both parties.
  • Video conference. Similar to an audio conference but with live video of the participants. Some laptop computers have built-in cameras to facilitate video conferencing.
  • IM (instant messaging). Exchange of text or voice messages using pop-up windows on the participants’ computer screens.
  • Texting. Exchange of text messages between mobile phones, pagers, or personal digital assistants (PDAs)—devices that hold a calendar, a contact list, a task list, and other support programs

Modern communication technologies make it possible to assemble project teams from anywhere in the world. Most people work during daylight hours, which can make synchronous meetings difficult if the participants are in different time zones. However, it can be an advantage in some circumstances; for example, if something must be done by the start of business tomorrow, team members in Asia can work on the problem during their normal work hours while team members in North America get some sleep.

Time Zones

It is important to remember time zones and calculate the difference between your time zone and your associates’ correctly; to not miss important meetings or deadlines. Figure 6.1 shows how time zones are organized around the world. If you are not sure about specific times, there are many online tools to help calculate time zone differences. Another possible solution is to agree on a time zone for all team members and associates to follow (for example: this project will always refer to dates and times using Greenwich Mean Time). To prevent even further confusion, it may be a good idea to use a twenty-four-hour clock to distinguish between a.m. and p.m. Regardless of the solution that your team decides on, it is important to keep it consistent.

Figure 6.1 World Time Zones
Image by TimeZonesBoy
Conference Call between New York and Paris
A project manager for an online course development project in New York is five time zones west of the reference zone, so the time is given as UTC–5 (or GMT–5). If it is noon in the reference zone, it is 7 a.m. (five hours earlier) in New York. The manager would like to contact a project team member in Paris, France. Paris is one time zone east of the reference zone (UTC+1 or GMT+1). If it is noon (12:00) in the reference zone, it is 1 p.m. (13:00) in Paris.This means that there is a six-hour difference between New York and Paris. If the project manager waits until after lunch to place the call (1 p.m. in New York), it will be too late in the day in Paris (7 p.m.) to reach someone.

Asynchronous Communication

Getting a team together at the same time can be a challenge—especially if they are spread out across time zones. Many types of communication do not require that the parties are present at the same time. This type of communication is asynchronous. There are several choices of asynchronous communication.

Mail and Package Delivery

Many companies prefer that final contracts are personally signed by an authorized representative of each party to the agreement. If several signatures are required, this can take weeks to get all the signatures if the contracts are transferred by a postal service. If this process is holding up the start of the project, you can use an overnight delivery service to minimize the time spent transferring the documents.


Fax transmissions are still in use and enjoy a high level of trust for accurately transmitting documents. Countries around the world are beginning to allow for the use of e-signatures and digitally signed electronic documents. Laws on the use of e-signatures and electronic documents will vary depending on the country and jurisdiction2. New methods of transmitting documents electronically include Adobe Sign and DocuSign, both of which will allow for the application of e-signatures to digital documents.


Electronic mail (e-mail) is widely used to coordinate projects and to communicate between team members. It has several valuable characteristics for project management:

  • Information can be sent to a list of team members.
  • Messages can be saved to document the process in case of a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
  • Files can be attached and distributed.
Project Blog

A blog is an online journal that can be private, shared by invitation, or made available to the world. Some project managers keep a journal in which they summarize the day’s challenges and triumphs and the decisions they made. They return to this journal at a later date to review their decision-making process after the results of those decisions are known to see if they can learn from their mistakes. Many decisions in project management are made with incomplete knowledge, and reflecting on previous decisions to develop this decision-making skill is important to growth as a project manager.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Some projects are directly affected by external factors such as political elections, economic trends, corporate mergers, technological or scientific breakthroughs, or weather. To keep informed about these factors, you can subscribe to online news sources. A technology that facilitates this process is Really Simple Syndication (RSS). Web pages with RSS news feeds have labelled links.

If the user clicks on the RSS feed, news from the website is automatically sent to the user’s news reader, such as Google Reader. The news reader can be set to filter the news for key words to limit the stories to those that are relevant to the project.

Assessing New Communication Technologies

New technologies for communicating electronically appear with increasing frequency. Using a new technology that is unfamiliar to the team increases the technology complexity, which can cause delays and increase costs. To decide if a new technology should be included in a communications plan, seek answers to the following questions:

  • Does the new communication technology provide a competitive advantage for the project by reducing cost, saving time, or preventing mistakes?
  • Does the project team have the expertise to learn the new technology quickly?
  • Does the company offer support such as help desk and equipment service for new communication technology?
  • What is the cost of training and implementation in terms of time as well as money?
  • Synchronous communications take place when all the parties are present at the same time. Examples are telephone calls and video conferencing.
  • Asynchronous communications take place when the parties are not present at the same time. Examples are email and blogs.
  • Determine if a new technology can save time, reduce cost, or prevent mistakes and if the increased complexity can be handled by the team and support staff for an affordable cost in time and money.

[1] Business Dictionary, s.v. “Virtual Team,”http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/virtual-team.html (accessed January 27, 2010).
[2] Government of Canada, “Government of Canada Guidance on Using Electronic Signatures,” July 15 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/government/system/digital-government/online-security-privacy/government-canada-guidance-using-electronic-signatures.html, (accessed February 22, 2021).



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