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  • N.S. Hill, K.M. Bartol

COVID-19: Improve Communication in Virtual Teams


Performance depends on how people use technologies, not on the technologies themselves. There are 5 behaviors which are often overlooked but nevertheless key to perform:

1- Match the technology to the task. Some technologies are better suited to certain tasks than others, and choosing the wrong one can lead to trouble.

2- Make intentions clear. Most of our communication these days is text-based. Unfortunately, when text-based tools leave too much to interpretation, common biases and assumptions can cause misunderstandings and lead to unhealthy conflict that hurts team performance.

3- Stay in sync. Keep everyone in the loop. Maintain regular communication with team members. Proactively share information. Acknowledge receipt of important messages, even if immediate action isn’t possible. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Seek clarification to better understand others’ behaviors or intentions before jumping to conclusions

4- Be responsive and supportive. To help develop trust on a virtual team, encourage everyone to respond promptly to requests from their teammates, take the time to provide substantive feedback, proactively suggest solutions to problems the team is facing, and maintain a positive and supportive tone in communications.

5- Be open and inclusive. To reap the benefits of your virtual team’s diversity, focus on communicating as openly and inclusively as possible. Involve the whole team. Actively solicit perspectives and viewpoints. And to resolve differences of opinion, seek to integrate the best of the team’s ideas.

Leaders play a key role

Don’t assume that everyone on your team is aware of potential pitfalls with virtual communication or of the 5 key behaviors that improve performance. We suggest creating a team charter that describes how you will work together. Specify technologies the team will or won’t use for different tasks (“Don’t use email to discuss sensitive interpersonal issues”); standard formats and etiquette for written communications (“Highlight or bold to emphasize action items in emails”); plans for keeping everyone in sync (“Let the team know ahead of time if a commitment or deadline cannot be met”); expected time to respond to requests (“Acknowledge receipt within 24 hours”); and types of communication that should always be shared with everyone (“Use the ‘would you want to know?’ rule of thumb”).

Clearly conveyed norms do make a difference.

To read the full MIT article, please click here.


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