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?'
Then 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
- 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.
- 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.
Is 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!
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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- Lifelong learners use a variety of approaches, usually relying heavily on reading. Reading works well
for some ideas and techniques, especially for those with limited emotional content. For adding other
skills and perceptions, consider a personal coach.
- Virtual Communications: III
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part
III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Changing the Subject: II
- Sometimes, in conversation, we must change the subject, but we also do it to dominate, manipulate, or
assert power. Subject changing — and controlling its use — can be important political skills.
- Trying to Do It Right the First Time Isn't Always Best
- You've probably heard the slogan, "Do it right the first time." It makes sense for some kinds
of work, but not for all. For more and more of the work done in modern organizations, doing it right
the first time — or even trying to — might be the wrong way to go.
- How to Ruin Meetings
- Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for
doing something else altogether.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
- And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
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