Irrespective of the field or type of business, communication plays a pivotal part in the successful functioning of every organization. The way in which ideas and information are disseminated within an organization determines the kind of specific communication patterns being used in that organization. Although information and data can be communicated either verbally or in writing, but based on its type, every organization has two segregated communication channels – formal and informal. This article looks into the meanings of formal and informal communication and explains how the two communication channels differ from each other.

Definitions and meaning

Formal communication:

The kind of communication in which the pathways for circulation of information and data within an organization are predefined and follow a specific red tape is known as formal communication. These are official channels of communication set in an organization and are important to follow at every level of hierarchy.

The organizations usually depend on this type of communication in performing its basic functions and activities. Some examples of formal communication include minutes of meetings, scheduled time sheets, attendance sheets, company portal emails etc.

Informal communication:

The kind of communication which flows freely and without any preset rules or regulations within an organization is known as informal communication. In an establishment, such type of communication channels do not follow any fixed procedures and can flow in any direction. It is also known as grapevine communication.

Peer-to-peer communication, verbal communication about job roles and company’s culture amongst employees, text messages, cultural slangs etc. are some examples of informal communication.

Difference between formal and informal communication

The main points of difference between formal and informal communication are listed below:

1. Basic Idea:

Formal communication channels are those channels which are specifically designed in order to pave ways of information flow in an organization. Usually, these communication channels are included within the job descriptions of individual employees and general standard procedures of a business. The management is responsible for timely and accurate implementation of formal communication channels for smooth running of its organization. Although informal communication channels exist in every organization, they are not officially used. They serve as a medium for employees to meet their social, emotional and personal needs.

2. Operational activities:

Formal communication channels are developed in order to regulate the day-to-day operational activities of a business. Larger businesses recruit special officers or personnel for efficient and timely dispersal of information in all directions of the organization including top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. On the other hand, informal communication channels are unofficial and are not directly related to the day to day activities of the business, however employees of an organization may use these channels to perform their daily tasks along with formal communication channels.

3. Decision making:

Management of a company mostly uses formal communication channels in their decision-making process. This not only decreases the probability of errors but makes sure that management decisions are based upon accurate in-house or outsourced information. As these decisions directly impact an organization’s performance at different levels, informal communication can’t be relied upon for decision making. However, senior management personnel may use informal communication to address operational level employees in order to convey an ad hoc message.

4. Reliability:

Formal communication channels are used in day-to-day activities of an organization. The sources of information extraction used for these channels are more reliable and trust worthy than informal communication channels. Additionally, formal communication channels are mostly present in written and documented form and so can be used as evidence to trace the right person for it’s responsibility. On the other hand, informal communication channels are mostly verbal and it is often difficult to trace back their primary source.

5. Time:

As formal communication channels follow a systematic approach, they are mostly time-consuming as compared to informal channels. This is because formal communication channels are properly attested by the relevant personnel and pass through a proper check and balance before being issued to the person intended. Informal communication spreads faster as it can be started at any level of the organization and do not pass through any scrutinizing system.

Formal vs informal communication – tabular comparison

A tabular comparison of formal and informal communication is presented below:

Function Formal Communication Informal Communication
Basic Idea Formal communication channels are orderly and well-structured. Informal communication channels are disorderly and may flow in any direction.
Operational activities These are directly related to the operational activities of a business. These are not directly related to operational activities of a business however employees may use it to perform their day-to-day duties.
Decision making Formal communication channels directly impact the decision-making process of a company’s management. The management do not make use of informal communication channels while making strategic business decisions.
Reliability Formal communication is more reliable than informal communication. Informal communication is not reliable and may consist of rumors and workplace gossip.
Time It is time-consuming and regular in nature. It spreads fast and is irregular in nature.

Conclusion – formal vs informal communication

Every organization has its own formal communication channels however informal communication channels are always present and are mostly used by operational level employees of the company. Formal communication channels are inevitable in large multinational businesses as such businesses are more decentralized and therefore correct flow of information is necessary at every level and/or division. However, medium-to-small sized entities may use both formal and informal communication to convey information and data to their employees. In hindsight, development and application of appropriate communication channels is important for managers to perform their routine tasks like planning, managing and controlling their organization efficaciously.