Technology has increased the options available for interacting with colleagues, whether in the same office or in another country. But choosing the right communications medium is as important as ever. By keeping a few basics principles in mind, virtual communications can be a positive force.
Organisations often rely on teams to accomplish tasks and solve problems that are beyond the capability of one individual. Teams allow individuals to pool their different knowledge and perspectives in order to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. At the same time, teams are increasingly using virtual communication where team members interact using technology (e.g. email, instant messaging, tele-conferencing, and video conferencing) instead of face-to-face. The growing use of virtual communication in teams is occurring for many different reasons; for example, team members are often distributed across different work sites, geographic locations, and time zones, making frequent face-to-face communication difficult. In addition, due to the widespread availability of different communication technologies, even team members that are in the same location often choose virtual communication over face-to-face meetings out of convenience. I have observed many teams where members prefer to send emails or communicate through other electronic means rather than take the time to get together face-to-face, even though they are in the same office on the same floor.
There is no doubt that virtual communication can offer a team great convenience and flexibility. However, researchers have found that virtual communication involves potential pitfalls that can undermine the quality of a team’s collaboration. To avoid these pitfalls, team members should be thoughtful in how they use virtual communication, rather than basing their communication choices primarily on convenience. This requires an awareness of which types of virtual communication media to use for different types of team communications, including understanding when virtual communication works well and when face-to-face communication is the best option. Applying a few basic principles, can help team members make more effective communication choices.