The number of technologies we have at our fingertips today to communicate with our virtual project team members is nothing short of daunting. In addition to the most natural and effective method we all know as ” face-to-face,” we have phone (wired and wireless), voicemail, email, instant messaging, blogs, RSS, SMS and Twitter, to name just the big ones. Unfortunately, none of us are taught how to best use these techologies to get our ideas across to each other and to minimize the impact on our colleagues. It is no wonder, then, that we all struggle with them.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out which technology to use when or how to use it properly–it just takes a moment or two of thought and some common sense before you hit the ‘send’ button. What follows is a brief list of the major communications technologies we have available to us today along with some of the best practices and common sense guidelines to maximize effectiveness and minimize the impact on all of our daily lives. Note: modern communication tools are the life-blood of virtual teams and therefore must be used well or things can really breakdown when face-to-face communications is not frequent.
- Use mostly for detailed explanations and for sending work products to colleagues;
- Keep messages as brief as possible. Take time to edit your prose down to the essential points. Put the purpose and expected actions up front. Keep in mind: the longer the message, the less likely someone will read all or any of it;
- Never say anything in anger, you will regret it later;
- List questions on separate lines to make it easier for people to see and respond;
- Unless you are sending an advertisement to potential customers where presentation is important, DO NOT use stationary! Colored and patterend backgrounds are distracting, take up needless email storage space and transmittion bandwidth, and make it difficult for people to reply to your message;
- Don’t use slang when communicating internationally;
- Check and reply to your email at least once a day;
- Be extremely careful with Reply-All. Before you use it, be sure EVERYONE needs to see your response. Otherwise, only reply to the sender and CC those with a strong need to know.
Phone or Voicemail
- Use only if your message is urgent or if you really want the other party to hear your voice inflections to better understand your intent (typically for sensitive topics).
- Get right to the point and don’t ramble on and on. be sensitive to the other person’s time;
- For voicemail, leave a concise message about what you need by when;
- Try to keep voicemail to less than 60 seconds if at all possible;
- Don’t perpetuate voicemail tag by leaving messages like, “Call me. I need to talk to you about the xyz project budget”. Instead, tell them exactly what you need and ask that they call you back only if they need more data. Or, answer their question if they left you one on your voicemail;
- Don’t use voicemail if an email or instant message is more appropriate;
- Don’t use a cell phone if your connection is weak;
- Answer messages prompty, but at least once a day.
- Be on time. This should be easy for a conference call;
- Use a good quality headset;
- Don’t use a wireless headset unless you have a fully-charged battery and a good connection;
- Mute when not speaking unless you are in a quiet room, have a noise-canceling headset, and are sure you have positioned your microphone so that you don’t make heavy breathing noises when you are not talking;
- Be concise in your comments and don’t dominate the call; let others get their thoughts out too;
- Speak slowly and clearly if the call includes international participants;
- Don’t use a cell phone if your connection is weak. In fact, don’t use a cell phone at all if you can avoid it as the short delays inherent in modern digital cell transmissions make back-and-forth discussions very difficult.
- Best for short questions that don’t require a lengthy answer;
- Use sparingly as it is a technology that can interrupt people in mid-thought (like the phone, another rude device);
- Some good uses are: to ask if someone is ready for a scheduled phone call; to bring people into a conference call who are late, forgot, or are new to the call; when the conference bridge fails and you need to move to another conference number; and for a back-channel to clarify discussions in a conference call;
- Don’t carry on lengthly IM conversations when a phone call is more efficient.
Twitter, RSS, Blogs:
- Consider using one or more these technologies in place of project update mass-emailings. This way, people can control when and if they receive them.
Again, none of these are anything but obvious. We just all need a reminder once in a while.