There are a number of different communication technologies available to the modern project manager to interface with and coordinate their virtual project teams. The technologies range from standard email communications, whether one to one or used to broadcast messages to the entire team, use of the telephone, again either for a one on one conversation, a one to many or a many to many conference call, webcam’s for one to one discussions or very small conference meetings, video conference calls and meetings and of course the physical face to face.
Different communication technologies will suit different projects requirements, budgets and phases. It may not be sensible, to instance, to install a $100,000 state of the art video conference suite in a remote construction office with only a satellite internet connection. Equally, it would not be realistic for a large corporate headquarters, with multiple satellite offices located around the globe, not to have an array of different technologies installed and available to the project teams based there.
All of these different communication technologies have their place, they each offer relative advantages and disadvantages and have different levels of richness of content.
Email has become the ubiquitous form of communication technology and is often, unfortunately, used in many situations where it should not. These misuses of email include using it to avoid uncomfortable verbal discussions and to retaliate to perceived personal insults.
For managers of international projects, email allows them to send the same message, often carefully crafted and considered, to their entire team or sub set of the team at the same time. This “mail blast” is certainly convenient, but, if the manager is not careful in crafting his message, members of the team from different cultures may read an entirely different message into the content of the email to their counterparts in another part of the project. This miscommunication often goes undetected until unexpected consequences start to appear later in the project lifecycle.
The message is to take care in writing a broadcast message to your entire team, consider instead sending the same message, differently structured and worded, to each cultural cohort in your project. This same level of care of the structure of the message must be considered in one on one email messaging, the message must be suitable for the culture of the recipient.
Despite the length of time they have been in common use, the telephone is, in my view, a somewhat misunderstood and misused device, especially when applied to the international communications environment.
Where email allows the recipient, who may not speak the same language as the sender, to translate and analyse the message, the telephone removes this option. Instead, the telephone forces both parties to struggle with linguistic complexities while attempting to hold an otherwise straightforward message. This complexity can lead to frustration and misunderstanding between the two participants. With no lasting record of a telephone conversation, it is easy for both parties to leave the call thinking they have understood the message, yet they may have both have completely misunderstood the entire conversation.
When planning and conducting telephone conversations, particularly with people who have different first languages, my suggestions would be to keep to simple language and to employ active listening techniques of checking the message sent is the message received. Remember also, that telephone communications, while substantially richer than written communications, are still a long way short of a face to face or even a video conversation, with, at best, 20 to 30% of the content of a face to face discussion being conveyed.
The technology for web cam meetings has been available to the domestic user for a number of years now. Typically this employs generally free, or very low cost, platforms such as Skype, using either built in or low cost add on camera’s. While the same technology is also available to business users, the required band width to support multiple users on a company network is prohibitive to many organisations and as such its use is still quite limited.
The power of being able to hold discussions virtually face to face in a one to one format, as is typical with web cam systems, is a huge step forward. Both users are able to relate much better to the other party, and the additional richness of the discussion is increased many times over through being able to see facial expressions during the discussion. This face and body language enables both parties to gauge the level of understanding and agreement so much better than via telephone.
For one on one discussions, the web cam is possibly the best option for building relationships between team members, and to do so without incurring the cost of actual travel to attend meetings and hold discussions. For a relatively nominal bandwidth cost, these tools should be made available to members of project teams.
Video conference is the high end version of the web cam, typically, video conference equipment is housed in a purpose fitted or at least dual purpose room. A video conference system features a high end camera, quality sound system and either a large TV screen or overhead projector.
The best video conference systems can almost feel like being in the same room as the other participants, even the good and average ones feature reasonably high quality pictures and sound quality that are fairly close to a real face to face meeting. Video conference facilities provide the opportunity for groups of people to meet remotely in a simulated conference setting, for them to have as close to full interaction as possible and, while still not equal to a full face to face meeting, video conference facilities provide the richest content alternate, but at a price.
Choosing The Best Communication Technologies For Your Team
Selecting the most appropriate communication technologies for your team is really then a case of working out the scale and duration of the demand, looking at the technology already in place, the budget available and the locations from both a temporal and work front perspective and then committing to the technology.
Every business will already have telephone and email so they are already in place. With the telephone it may need enhancing with suitable conference all facilities to allow multiple participants on each call. After this, if the budget will allow, I would always recommend some form of video conference, even if this is a free platform such as Skype. If the budget will allow go for a full video conference facility at each location, but make it accessible to those who need it, not an exclusive tool for senior management.
And, of course, don’t forget to include a robust IT platform that has sufficient bandwidth to support the chosen technology and allows all locations to have common access to any files and software they may need.
Testing Communication Technologies For Effectiveness
To demonstrate the different levels of efficiency and content, try having a game of 20 questions on each of the platforms. Ask one party to think up something and ask the other has to guess it by asking up to 20 questions, the office who set the question can only answer yes or no in response to each question. From this game you will quickly see that the efficiency of the question and answer process is much enhanced when the conversation is held via video, where the answer is simply to hold up the item to the camera…
Share your experiences
Do you have any particular experiences with technologies you would like to share, if so, we would love to hear from you.
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