Developments in communication technology have played a large part in the rise of virtual and remote team working (VRW), and continuing advances provide an increasing range of options for managers and colleagues to connect with one another. While it’s not essential for VRW teams to use cutting edge technology to succeed, the digital age provides some very useful tools to aid communications. Below are some of the key technologies that can be utilised by VRW teams for virtual meetings:
- Video conferencing
The next best thing to meeting face-to-face, video conferencing combines a visual and an aural experience, so team members have the opportunity to see the facial expressions and body language of their colleagues when they’re speaking. Where team members do not share a common language, this is especially useful; being able to see the person speaking, watch their mouth and physical gestures can help to make understanding what’s being said easier.
As with any form of meeting, a video conference will benefit from being properly managed; sending participants an agenda ahead of the conference. and making sure all parties are given the opportunity to speak will help ensure productivity.
- Telephone conferencing
Telephone conferencing is a less expensive alternative to using video, and because the technology is highly affordable, many small and medium sized organisations will have the facility to organise this type of communication in-house. Not having a visual dimension can make getting participation from all parties difficult, but this can be helped by having an experienced team leader facilitate the conference, making sure each participant is encouraged to speak, and ensuring that ‘stronger’ personalities do not dominate.
It’s helpful if team members introduce themselves to one another in advance of a telephone conference, and team managers should encourage this if possible – this can include sharing CV’s and photos via the internet or email. It’s also helpful if participants are provided with presentation materials in advance, so they can refer to these when they or others are speaking.
Be sure to ask everyone to identify themselves each time they speak, so that over time, all team members will recognize each other’s voices.
Be aware of cultural differences – while in some cultures, it’s perfectly acceptable to interrupt or talk over a speaker, in others it’s not, and this can make it difficult for some members to contribute unless they are specifically invited to.
- Web conferencing
Web conferencing makes it possible for participants to speak to each other on the telephone – while at the same time sharing files on their PC’s (some technologies will allow any participant on the call to take over the presentation). As with teleconferencing, it’s useful if participants have the opportunity to get to know a little about their colleagues ahead of a web conference; having background information –possibly even photographs will help them visualize other members and enhance the experience.
For this mode of communication, it’s essential to ensure all participants are using compatible software.
- Electronic meeting options
There are many other electronic communication technologies available including;
- Virtual Private Network (VPN).
- Instant Messaging – allows simultaneous exchange of emails.
- Chat rooms – real-time, online discussions between team members.
- Bulletin boards – areas where team members post questions or topics for colleagues to respond to.
These – and other technologies can help to facilitate communications between team members who may be collaborating on the same projects, but working in different countries, cultures and time zones. Whatever technology you may be using though, always respect the cultural differences of the members who make up the team, and ensure that the technology, and how team members use it, does not become a barrier to effective communication. It has been shown that 90% of remote team challenges are about people and behaviours, and only 10% concern the effective use of technology.
At expatknowhow, we are experts in helping organisations communicate clearly and effectively across cultures. Are you responsible for a VRW team? How do you use technology for effective team communications? What technology has worked for you – and what has not? We’d love to hear from you at expatknowhow.
Do you want to improve your VRW team communications? Expatknowhow can undertake a review of your team and its cultural dimensions, and use this knowledge to develop and implement a bespoke training programme.
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