Consider the following strategies to facilitate more effective virtual collaboration in teams.
Match the technology to the task
Virtual team members rely on information and communication technologies (ICT) to communicate. Not all technologies are equally well suited to different types of tasks. The following strategies will help the team match technology to different task demands:
- Use leaner text-based communication media (e.g. email, chat, bulletin boards) for generating ideas and plans, collecting data, or getting routine feedback on documents.
- Use richer communication media (e.g. audio, video) for solving complex problems that require negotiating and reconciling different ideas and perspectives.
- Avoid the use of email and other text-based communication for resolving interpersonal conflicts.
Create common understanding
Communication using ICT increases the potential for misunderstandings to occur. In addition, because of the lack of face-to-face contact, team members often have no insight into the local/personal constraints on another team member’s work that may influence that individual’s behavior in the team. The following strategies will help create common understanding to make sure that team members are on the same page:
As an initiator of communications
- Ensure that all team members are included in important team communications.
- Because written communications, such as emails, tend to be interpreted as more negatively than the writer intends, review messages before sending to make sure they strike the right tone.
- Use strategies that will make the meaning of communications clear and ensure that important information is not overlooked (e.g., punctuation/bold to emphasize a point, use “response requested” in the subject line).
- Proactively share information about your local situation that can impact how you work with the team; for example, unexpected emergencies, local demands on your time, plus anything else you think is relevant to help team members understand your behaviors on the team.
As a receiver of communications
- Acknowledge receipt of important communications, even if you cannot take action the communication immediately.
- Suspend judgment when you receive a communication that is unclear or are faced with behavior on the part of other team members that you do not understand; before jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst, seek additional clarifying information.
- Check in with team members who have not responded to messages to make sure that messages have been received. It is easy for technical problems to interfere with communications.
Be responsive and supportive
Being responsive and supportive in working with the team is critical for building trust–especially in virtual teamwork. This includes the following strategies:
- Consistently meet commitments to demonstrate performance and results.
- Respond promptly to requests for input/feedback from other team members.
- Provide meaningful input and feedback when requested by other team members.
- Take the initiative to solve problems that arise in the team and take the leadership role for tasks in your area of expertise
- Demonstrate enthusiasm and positivity in working with the team.
- Proactively keep the team informed about changes and issues that can impact the team.
Lack of frequent face-to-face contact can result in the team being “out of sight, out of mind” for members of the team. The following strategies can help team members stay connected:
- Avoid lengthy silences.
- Establish a frequent and predictable rhythm of communication in the team (e.g., regular check-ins, status updates, reminders for upcoming meetings and deadlines).
- Monitor team communications to keep up-to-date with what is happening in the team.
Be open and inclusive
Members of virtual teams are likely to have more differences between them (e.g., culture, local work processes, approaches to the task). However, communicating virtually can increase the potential for dysfunctional conflict due to differences and will tend to make it more difficult for the team to benefit from team members’ different ideas and perspectives. The following strategies will help to ensure open and inclusive communication in the team:
- Provide opportunities for all team members to have a voice in team discussion and decision making.
- Solicit and be open to different viewpoints and perspectives on how to approach the task.
- Resolve conflicts that arise collaboratively, by seeking a win-win solution.