Email vs. Chat at Work


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

Email vs. Chat at Work

“Internal communication isn’t about telling employees what to think; it’s about creating and enabling authentic, ongoing dialogues with and between them.”

— Paul Barton

In the modern workplace, email and chat apps jostle to dominate internal communication. What situations call for you to write a real-time message versus an email? 

The choice isn’t always clear, and leaving it up to each employee leads to wasted time and frustration.

To create a healthy communication culture, you need to get everyone on the same page.

How can my company sort out email and chat?

Companies should establish clear expectations for communication in general and email and chat in particular. These expectations should be expressed verbally and through formal policies and procedures. Consider these topics:

  • Communication Standards—Describe your organization’s preferred communication tools, standards, and values.
  • Etiquette and Behavior—Set expectations for presence and responsiveness, describe how to handle sensitive information, set boundaries for humor and off-topic messages, etc.
  • When to Use Email vs. Chat—Explain the typical uses for each mode. (See the table below.)
  • How to Use Email Effectively—Indicate the best uses of email as well as company expectations for email use.
  • How to Use Chat Effectively—Communicate your team's best practices for using Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, or whatever service you use.

Can email and chat coexist?

Absolutely. When used properly, the strengths of real-time messaging make up for weaknesses of email, and vice versa. Follow these best practices.

Use email to . . . Use chat apps to . . .
Make a formal request Make a time-sensitive request
Give important background information or context Ask for simple clarification
Share important news Share routine or light-hearted news
Make multiple points at once Collaborate and problem-solve synchronously
Explain a complicated topic Ask for a quick update
Collaborate with an external audience Collaborate with an internal audience


Each business communicates differently, and teams work best when they understand their communication culture.


Take Action 

  • If you manage an organization or a small project team, list communication practices that match your culture and business purpose. Then communicate them to your team. 
  • If you are a new employee, pay close attention to how your co-workers communicate. If you need clarification, ask for it. 

Get More Support

Use the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips archives to help you choose the best form to deliver your business messages.