Virtual teams and internal communication


Working as part of a virtual internal communication team is a unique experience for me. I wanted to share my perspectives on what individuals in teams collaborating across geographies can do to improve relationships and increase performance.

 

A research point out that ‘support’ is fundamental for teams to performance to their maximum. The limitations of distance, less frequent face-to-face meetings or lack of team building opportunities lead to a dip in productivity and performance over time.

 

More so, if the role entails closer involvement in strategic planning and execution across multiple locations like internal communicators are expected to deliver.

 

  1. Tone of voice: With e-mail as the main source of communication, it is important to know that the chances of misinterpretations are higher. Keep the tone of voice neutral and try to highlight any emotional cues in calls.
  2. The Big Picture: Since you have better insight into local happenings, it helps for your team to know how things work on the ground. Share regular snippets on best practices, learning and photographs of some of the programs or even news clips. These insights can help them plan better.
  3. Personalized communication: Virtual teams can increase impersonal behavior despite tools like IM and videoconference helping connect faster. Putting a face to the name helps which communicating among each other. Leverage internal tools which allow ‘Facebook’ type information sharing.
  4. Helping people balance work and life: It may be possible that your work and life blurs while working as a ‘globally distributed unit’. What it can do it burn the team and you while you chase deliverables. Flexibility and helping prioritize while allowing breaks for the team will do a world of good.
  5. Create a set of unwritten rules: Since time is the essence and working virtually is people centric, it makes sense to include an unwritten set of guidelines; timely meetings, ownership, back-ups among others.
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5 thoughts on “Virtual teams and internal communication

  1. I agree with this absolutely.

    As far as literal communication is concerned for a team which collaborates across Geographies, little sensitizations are very important.

    Such as, being careful about fashionable jargons, time zones, tone of voice and knowledge about cultural nuances.

    It pays to go that extra mile to know a bit more, to get out of one mindset and house a few more.

    When it is more for strategic and bigger decisions, its important to listen to the other side, to take their views and possibly share yours and make a collaborative decision.

    Listening, knowing and sharing – these combined would be the key to communicate better across countries and across geographies.

  2. I think this is all correct. And there are two bits that I am really obsessing over. I’d love to have a good answer.

    1) “Personalised communications” as you call it. You build more of a relationship within 5 seconds of physically meeting someone than you can in hundreds of emails (imho). So what can you do to change that? You need to give people time to talk and interact in less formal ways. I am experimenting with the idea of short calls/ video conferences, followed by off-line working… followed by short calls/ video conferences.

    Ideally this breaks the formal rhythm that calls and video conferences impose and teams will tell each other stories and repeat jokes that have happened off-line.

    What do you think?

    2) Time zones. Maybe we have a lot to learn from India. You have the awkwardness of one time zone in such a big country… and you also have major markets that are either half a day ahead or half a day behind. How do you manage your routine communications to take advantage of that?

    I am working a lot at the moment with Australia and the west coast of the United States. And we are never in the same ‘mode’ at the same time. By that I mean, we are all generally more full of ambition and energy at the start of the day.

    Regards from Bloomsbury

    /df

  3. Hi David, thanks for dropping by and sorry for the delay in responding to your thoughts.

    On the idea of having breaks in-between calls – I agree it will help in engaging better – unsure if that is something which can be controlled or directed – leave alone measured.

    I am part of regular calls (daily, weekly, fortnightly) and somehow the routine also brings with it stability and confidence.

    There are cultural nuances which might be playing a part in this part of the world. In India, we treat our clients and colleagues like ‘family’ and saying ‘no’ is difficult.

    We are also good at ‘going beyond the brief’ and ‘stretching’ to ensure communication and projects go well – a distinct advantage which India usually delivers on.

  4. The basis for a successful virtual team is a physical meeting at the outset and a clear understanding of goals. “Putting a face to the name” is important in building mutual trust and understanding and I have found it works very well in a very technology intensive, impersonal environment. The second pre-requisite is leadership. You need a leader who sets the goals, monitors them and makes sure the team members are synchronized like a well-conducted orchestra.

  5. I agree with all of your points, which go a long way in supporting what I read in “The Handbook of High-Performance Virtual Teams”, which says that virtual teams have six challenges: Distance, Time, Technology, Culture, Trust and Leadership.

    Distance means working without face-to-face contact, resulting in lack of personal bonding. Time means the challenges from working in different time zones, often globally, and the advantages of 24/7 production versus the disadvantage of no real-time collaboration. Technology deals with the challenges of compatible and incompatible ICT and how to make the team members make the best out of their tools. Culture has to do with the challenges arising from teaming different cultures, especially if your team is global. Trust is usually slow to develop without personal contact, another challenge when you only meet in virtuality. Leadership tells how virtual team leaders must fill many roles and develop different skills than traditional team leaders.

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