3 Tips for Communicating on Virtual Teams
August 23, 2018
Given more and more people are working from home, companies are headquartered in one city with offices scattered across the country and globe, communicating in virtual teams has become an essential skill. This week's blog post provides three great tips on how to effectively communicate in virtual teams, and is written by guest blogger, William A. Martorano, MBA. He is a faculty member for the MS in Professional Studies and the BS in General Studies, both housed in Goodwin College. He teaches Communicating in Virtual Teams for both programs.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Virtual Teams Best Practices
When I first started out in business over 30 years ago, colleagues communicated face-to-face. Meetings were held in conference rooms with all involved parties, with little use of technology beyond a note taker for meeting minutes.
How things have evolved over the many years since. Technology has allowed employees to work remotely or more importantly, being located not only throughout the US but in many countries as well. Some things have remained the same. Leadership of a project team, communication among team members and trust that everyone on the team will complete their assignments and work together as a cohesive unit are still the top three requirements to ensure project success. So, what has changed?
Distance, time and culture has added a unique twist, not only the project team composition but also, the importance and effectiveness of communication. Companies are now able to assemble teams with individuals that not only possess the knowledge to serve on a project team, but also are not required to be located in the same facility. What has changed that is critical to the success of these “virtual teams”? The skills and technology necessary to ensure success is critical in the virtual team environment.
Having worked on and lead many virtual teams throughout my career, as well as teaching both undergraduate and graduate virtual team courses at Goodwin College, here are my tips to ensure the effectiveness of virtual teams.
Trust is the key factor in all virtual teams. Particularly without daily face-to-face contact, communication via conference calls, emails or other collaborative tools, can be open to interpretation related to tone, participation and engagement. Each team member must work to develop a level of trust among the team so that each person’s skills, personality, culture and engagement is thoroughly understood by each team member. Team members must be able to rely on each other to ask the necessary questions, clarify assignments, speak up when the need help and most importantly, be counted on to complete their assignments on time. Without trust, a virtual team will fail in its mission and objectives.
Without the daily face-to-face interaction among virtual teams, it is imperative that interaction between all team members be frequent, detailed and precise. Email alone is not enough to ensure effective and consistent communication. Virtual team leaders must take the time to reach out to each team member, not just before, but throughout the project to not only engage and gain status but to get to know each team member and learn how or who they prefer to communicate with and be communicated to. Particularly with virtual team members from other cultures, it is important to fully understand how that particular culture handles communication as a “one size fits all” approach will not yield positive results. This is really no different than what would be required in a face-to-face team; however, the absence of seeing that person’s body language, facial expressions, etc. make this task so much more critical in the virtual team environment.
Technology has been the great enabler that has made virtual teams possible. However, with technology comes some hurdles that must be addressed and overcome. Each team member must and should have a voice in the collaboration tools that are selected for use as well as be proficient in those technologies. In addition, as with communication and trust, technology can pose a barrier to effective communication. With the right selection of technology and the rigor that each virtual team member needs to apply to the proper use of that technology, virtual teams can succeed and be productive and communicate effectively within the team.
Use these three tips to communicate more effectively in your virtual teams.
William A. Martorano, MBA