Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 4;   January 26, 2005: Virtual Communications: I

Virtual Communications: I

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.

Katrina picked up the pencil and punched Ed's number. The circuit completed and she could hear the line ring. It rang again. She started tapping the pencil on her desk. The line rang again. 'Still not there,' she thought, tapping the pencil. 'Where is he?'

PencilsThen Ed's voice came on the line, but it was his outgoing message. Katrina thought for a moment, and hung up. "Damn," she said out loud, to nobody.

Frustrated as she might be, Katrina has just done something smart — rather than leave Ed yet another message, she decided to just hang up, saving both Ed and herself some time.

Virtual teams depend on effective telephone and email communications, and that effectiveness has both individual and team components. Here's Part I of some guidelines for virtual team communications. See "Virtual Communications: II," Point Lookout for February 2, 2005, for more.

Have regular check-ins
If you lead or manage the team, check in with each team member regularly. Depending on the nature of the work, you might check in daily, or two or three times a week — less often than that risks disconnection.
Make appointments
Communicating within
a virtual team
as if you were
co-located almost
never works
Making appointments minimizes phone tag, which is expensive in terms of stress, frustration, and time spent. When you want to talk with someone, make an appointment, possibly by email or by text message.
Keep your appointments
Running a little late when someone is waiting outside your office does hurt, but not nearly as much as running late for a phone conversation. When you're late for a phone appointment, the caller often has less idea what's happening or when you'll be available.
If you're running late, take time out in advance — if you can — to advise your next appointment that you're late. Rescheduling is best.
Agree on message response times
Adopt a standard of reasonableness for the elapsed time to respond to email or phone messages. A rough rule of thumb: respond in about half the time you thought was reasonable outside of the remote management context.
Use meta-responses
If you can't return a message promptly, send a message saying so. If you can explain why, all the better, but at least let your partner know that you're aware of the delay, and estimate when you can respond.
Define a three-level priority scale for messages
Green messages (good news or bad) are non-urgent, yellow is possibly urgent, and red messages are urgent. Use this scale for email and voicemail, taking care never to inflate a priority just to get attention.
Agree that non-response is a performance issue
Agree that failure to respond to (or at least to acknowledge) a message within a "reasonable" time could be a serious performance issue. Clearly define the kinds of circumstances that could excuse the failure to respond.

I'd like to continue, but we're out of time for this week. Let's continue at the same time next week. Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Communications: II  Next Issue

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

Reader Comments

Chris Riemer (www.knowledgestreet.com)
Your advice is generally non-technological, but I thought I'd mention something that was a great help in improving the efficiency of a virtual team I managed in the past: webcams.
We already had a network backbone, and I spent a few bucks to buy a webcam for each location. Using only Microsoft's NetMeeting, it gave me a chance to see the folks who were many miles away, and that was an opportunity to notice a new hair cut, or see a smile, or share a picture of the dog. It made us feel much more in touch than the telephone alone. I was famous for drawing ideas on my white board, so this also let me communicate in the way I like to, even if the white board was pretty hard to see with a webcam.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenbrFJnTxWKSEOJZORner@ChacteUmwVADGLPMWkRfoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Glow of lava reflected in steam plume east of Kupapa'u Point, on the Big Island of HawaiiWhen Meetings Boil Over
At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
Don't rely solely on your spell checkerEmail Antics: III
Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
Lewis and Clark on the Lower ColumbiaAstonishing Successes
When we have successes that surprise us, we do feel good, but beyond that, our reactions are sometimes self-defeating. What happens when we experience unanticipated success, and how can we handle it better?
The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airlinerThe Limits of Status Reports: II
We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.
Magic Lantern Slide of a dog jumping through a hoopJust-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops." Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops efficiently.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Effective Communication at Work and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Feeling shameComing December 19: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.
Inside the space station flight control room (FCR-1) in the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control CenterAnd on December 26: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Coping
Coping effectively with feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt is the path to recovering a sense of balance that's the foundation of clear thinking. And thinking clearly at work is important if you want to avoid feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt. Available here and by RSS on December 26.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenVdEehzBPCIZwIKNvner@ChaczNGcLTdLrZNWOwoHoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.