5 Ways To Use Technology For More Effective Virtual Communications
As more and more technologies come to the market you’d assume more effective virtual communications would evolve. But, success is more dependent on how people use these technologies, and not on the technologies themselves.
Here’s a list of the top 5 ways to use technology for more effective virtual communications.
top 5 ways to use technology for more effective virtual communications
1. Match the System to the Task
Teams have many communication systems at their disposal, ranging from email and chat platforms to web and video conferencing.
People often default to using the most convenient or familiar tool, but some technologies are better suited to certain tasks than others, and using the wrong one can lead to trouble.
Since communication systems differ along with several measures, the purpose should determine the delivery system.
Consider using the following tools for each situation:
- Text-based media for pushing information in one direction
- Web conference and video for problem-solving and negotiations
The more complex the task, the closer you should be to in-person communication. And sometimes meeting face-to-face is the best option.
2. Make Intentions Clear
Most of our communication these days is text-based. Unfortunately, text-based tools leave too much to interpretation, common biases and assumptions can cause misunderstandings and lead to unhealthy conflict that hurts team performance. To prevent these biases from causing problems on your team, ensure that you are crystal clear about your intentions. Review important messages before sending them to make sure you have struck the right tone. Err on the side of pumping up the positivity or using emojis to convey emotion to mitigate the tendency toward negative interpretation. Go out of your way to emphasize important information, highlighting parts of the message that require attention, using the response requested in the subject line, or separating requests into multiple emails to increase the importance of each one.
3. Stay in Sync
When team members don’t interact face to face, the risk of losing touch and getting out of step is greater. This can happen for a number of reasons.
First, when teams are not co-located, it’s more difficult to tell when messages have been received and read unless a receipt is specifically acknowledged.
Second, communication failures can lead to an uneven distribution of information among team members. Individuals might be excluded from an important team email by mistake, for instance, leaving them unwittingly in the dark.
Third, the lack of frequent in-person contact can create an out of sight, out of mind effect in which team members become distracted by local demands and forget to keep their distant teammates informed. When one team member goes silent, the others are left guessing. Without accurate information, people often assume the worst.
Your team can overcome these challenges by prioritizing and keeping everyone in the loop. Maintain regular communication with team members, and avoid lengthy silences. Acknowledge receipt of important messages, even if immediate action isn’t possible.
4. Be Responsive and Supportive
The paradox in dispersed teamwork is that trust is more critical for effective functioning and more difficult to build than in more traditional teams. Trust between teammates in the same workspace is influenced to a large extent by familiarity and liking; however, in dispersed teams, people must signal their trustworthiness by how they work with others on a task.
To help develop trust on a virtual team, encourage everyone to respond promptly to requests from their teammates, take the time to provide substantive feedback, proactively suggest solutions to problems the team is facing, and maintain a positive and supportive tone in communications.
5. Be Open and Inclusive
Dispersed teams are more likely to have members from different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. While diversity can result in a greater variety of ideas, which boosts team creativity and performance, virtual communication sometimes discourages team members from speaking up, making it challenging to capitalize on these benefits. Virtual tools reduce the social cues that help team members bond, which can diminish motivation to share ideas and information. People may also hold back when they can’t directly observe teammates’ reactions to their contributions. In addition, when dispersed teams consist of subgroups at different locations, there is a natural tendency to communicate more within a local subgroup than across the entire team.
To reap the benefits of your virtual team’s diversity, focus on communicating as openly and inclusively as possible. Involve the whole team in important communications and decisions. Actively solicit perspectives and viewpoints from all team members, especially those in other locations, to demonstrate openness to different ideas and approaches to a task. And when working to resolve differences of opinion, seek to integrate the best of the team’s ideas.
The Role of Leadership
Don’t assume that everyone on your team is aware of the potential pitfalls with virtual communication or the five ways to use technologies for more effective virtual communication. We suggest creating a document that describes how you will work together. Specify technologies the team will or won’t use for different tasks (“Don’t use email to discuss sensitive interpersonal issues”); standard formats and etiquette for written communications (“Highlight or bold to emphasize action items in emails”); plans for keeping everyone in sync (“Let the team know ahead of time if a commitment for a deadline cannot be met”); expected time to respond to the request (acknowledge receipt within 24 hours”) and types of communication that should always be shared with everyone (“Use the ‘would you want to know? Rule of thumb”. We’ve found that clearly conveyed norms do make a difference.
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