Communication and the Virtual Team

Communication and the Virtual Team
The successful passing of information creates an important bond between virtual team members. ?Without creating the connections, a virtual team can?t do what it needs to; function as a cohesive unit? (Thompson, n.d., Introduction section, ?2). Information should be specific to the task at hand with a common goal in mind. Complete and accurate information not only helps a team reach its goal, but it also avoids problems and conflicts that arise between members. The importance of clear, concise information in a virtual team can not be stressed enough; however, timing should also be considered when sharing information. Information not received in a timely fashion also jeopardizes the cohesiveness of the team.Methods
The methods of communicating for a virtual team consist of different tools than used by a traditional team because ??awareness of others? activities is more difficult and requires some degree of technological intervention? (Fussell, 1998, p. 276). A virtual team needs to use alternative tools because it has members working from different geographical areas and possibly at different times. A traditional team meets face to face, whereas a virtual team needs the use of technology to operate and interact efficiently. Teleconferencing, video conferencing, faxing, e-mail, and instant messaging are some of the tools available to a virtual team.
Teleconferencing gives a team the convenience of sharing information in real time. When meeting in this manner, team members are able to receive instant feedback. Other members can also listen to the tone and inflection of the member speaking. Telephone conferencing involves minimal cost but requires that team members be available at the same time. In addition, members out of range of the microphone may not be heard.
Video conferencing gives a team the same advantages as telephone conferencing with the added benefit of being able to interpret body language and facial expression. However, members not within sight of the camera will not be seen and possibly not heard clearly. Unlike teleconferencing, ??videoconferencing [sic] rooms are quite expensive to set up and maintain? (Parker, 2003, p. 187).
Faxing is practical if printed information needs to be passed to a member without access to another technology such as e-mail. The use of faxes can be a faster form of communication as opposed to entering the information into a computer or sending data via another method. However, several disadvantages exist, such as the clarity of the transmitted document, the recipient may not receive the entire document, and the sender may encounter a busy fax line.
E-mail is an excellent tool in communicating ideas and thoughts. Correspondence sent via e-mail can be sent anytime an idea comes to fruition and it can easily be recorded to a computer file or printed for future reference. Composed messages that are proof read and carefully thought out are sure to convey quality information. E-mail, however, has some drawbacks. Team members are unable to hear the tone of a voice; therefore, tone must be properly expressed within the text. This technology is not a good tool for correspondence that requires an immediate response because e-mail does not guarantee the message will be read right away. E-mail in larger teams can breakdown because members are unable to locate attachments easily and the lack of ability to transmit large files (Thomas, Bostrom, & Gouge, 2007).
Instant messaging is another tool that can be used by a virtual team. Along with e-mail, instant messaging gives team members the ability to save entire conversations for review at a later time. Holding meetings in this manner allows members to receive feedback quickly as information is exchanged in real time. However, information is subject to interpretation by the receiver and if not worded correctly can be taken the wrong way. For this reason, team members need to be certain of the clarity and intent of the information sent to other members.
Ground Rules
By using one or more of the preceding technologies a virtual team is able to communicate in an effective manner. Before a team takes on the challenge of a project, the team must decide how to use technology. Teams must determine which methods of communication meet their needs. Ground rules enable teams to enhance their interaction, thus establishing a stronger team structure. Virtual teams need to institute rules ??regarding what to post?, when to post?, how to comment?, who owns documents for revisions?, how to inform other members of their whereabouts?, etiquette for electronic communication? and audio-conferencing?? (Malhotra, Majchrzak, & Rosen, 2007, p.62). By setting clear rules for communication, a virtual team will avoid the miscommunications and setbacks that occur within a virtual team setting.
Communication Breakdown
?Information and communication technology usage failure can have a domino effect that erodes team productivity? (Thomas &Bostrom, p.54). A lack of communication between team members can turn a meeting into a waste of time for all involved. An unproductive meeting can use up valuable time that a member could apply toward another task. Misunderstandings between team members are usually a result of a lack of communication or not communicating an idea or opinion clearly. These miscommunications can cause members to believe they are not being listened to or taken seriously. This lack of communication can lead to team conflict and cause team members to put forth unnecessary time and energy to overcome conflicts. The most serious of outcomes is the total division of the team, which may be impossible to fix.
Through effective communication a team can work successfully to reach its goal. Virtual teams work together by sharing quality information with the help of technology. Information that lacks substance or that is nonexistent leads to misunderstandings and conflict within the team. With technologies such as e-mail and instant messaging, or the more traditional method of teleconferencing, it has become easier for virtual teams to communicate. However, setting ground rules for the use of communication technologies is important because these rules build a team?s foundation for future success.

Communication and the Virtual Team 9.9 of 10 on the basis of 1987 Review.