The 30th September is International Podcast Day, a day when podcasters around the world are celebrating their art and craft. As such it seemed appropriate that this post should consider the role of podcasting in supporting communications in virtual teams.
In celebration of international podcast day, we are delighted to unveil our own podcast stream, “Virtual Team Dynamics – the Ulfire Podcast” is available on all of the usual sites. Please do check it out via our subscribe to podcast page. We will be releasing new podcasts with each future article on the website and are working to record episodes for many of the existing articles.
What Is A Podcast
Firstly, its worth defining what a podcast is, both broadly and in the context of this article. At its simplest, a podcast is a web based stream of audio files to which a listener can subscribe, with the subscription ensuring that the listener is then served new files on their chosen device as and when they are released. There are many thousands of podcasts publicly available covering virtually every aspect of life and individual interests.
In the business environment, some businesses use podcasts to engage with their client base, others use them internally, on a closed network, to engage with their workforce. More broadly, many podcasts are produced by hobbyists to share their experience and views with a broad audience. Some podcasts will have tens of thousands of subscribers, reaching to every corner of the earth, others will have small, specialist audiences in either a single profession or a town, sit or community.
A recent survey conducted by Edison Research found that in the USA people listen to an average of 4hrs of audio per day. Consuming audio during their daily commute, at the gym and at their workplace. Of this audience, a little under 2% are listening to podcasts as part of that mix. This is a growing percentage as technology streamlines the delivery of audio to mobile devices. Whatever their reach and content, podcasts and the concept of podcasting has a genuine role to play in the communications mix for virtual teams.
Podcasts In Virtual Teams
The first question then is, what do podcasts offer that more traditional, and more conventional forms of communication don’t?
Podcasts offer an organisation an opportunity to have direct, one to one discussions with their personnel. Listening to a podcast is a very personal experience, with the listener putting on a set or ear buds or headphones and listening directly to the voice or voices on the recording in a closed environment. The use of recorded media such as podcasts is very different to the traditional town hall meeting format so long used in business. In these town hall meetings, management representatives “broadcast” their message to a room full of employees, typically in a heavily scripted and stage managed event once a quarter or half year.
In contrast to the town hall type of address, a podcast or similar audio file can be produced quickly , circulated immediately and is consumable on a user by user basis, giving a less intrusive and more informal way for personnel to be kept up to date. This personal contact between the listener and the speaker means the message can be more individually focussed one, constructed so that it speaks directly to each listener.
This is not to say that each listener should have their own podcast, rather that the tone of the podcast can be more personal, more conversational, than the more structured and stage managed format of a town hall event. Also, podcasts can be tailored to suit different regional or cultural expectations and to address the needs and expectation of different parts of a virtual team. One could be for the overall management, another for a team engaged with a specific phase of a project and another aimed a graduates and early career personnel.
Internal Versus External Podcasts
The most common use of a podcast is in an external environment. A podcast is produced either by a commercial organisation or a hobbyist to share their views, news and information to a global audience. In a virtual team environment, many of the messages will be for internal consumption only, as such, the podcast would be hosted on the company or project intranet, accessible to employees only. This means that the message can be tailored to those employees and not structured for external listeners.
Internal podcasts can also be produced more quickly and simply than, say a town hall meeting or a video message. This means that they can be done more frequently, even weekly on occasion. They can be short and to the point, and they can react quickly to any events in the business. All of this means that those producing the podcasts can keep their personnel better informed as events change.
Single Voice Versus Panel Or Interview Podcasts
Many in the podcasting community debate the format of their podcast, trying to find the right formula and format for their broadcasts. In the virtual team and business environment, I would advocate a flexible format to the material produced. There will be times when a single speaker podcast is appropriate and likewise there will be times when either a panel or an interview structure works best. For example:
- Single speaker podcasts – used for the leaders of a virtual team project to post announcements, project updates, general news and information. These can be very informal, brief and frequent.
- Multi speaker podcasts – used for teams in a virtual team structure to give updates on their part of the project or for leadership teams to share news. These are likely to be less frequent and longer than the single speaker podcasts.
- Interview podcasts – used to give either leadership insights into the thoughts of clients, project leaders or other key personnel through structured interviews or, used to interview team members and give some real personal insights into the individuals who form part of a virtual team.
Spread The News, Share The Culture
The human voice has evolved over thousands of years as the best way to communicate, it carries more information that the simple written word, it can be uplifting and inspiring, yet it is so rarely used in a business to share information to the broader workforce.
Beyond the simple warmth of verbal communication, the use of podcasts in a business sense can be a great way to share cultural differences, build up a social understanding of virtual team colleagues and just share bits of news from time to time. Business communications do not need to be all business all the time, a human touch is often missing but always needed.
Immediate And Personal Outreach To Each Employee
Taking the opportunity to share a message, and experience or just a little bit of news in a recording is a great way to reach out to team members around the world. These same team members often crave the direct information they so rarely get.
Leaders of businesses may only visit an office once a year or less, often only meeting with the local leadership, so taking the opportunity to send these small, bite sized audio messages to every staff member is a wonderful way to reach out to each and every employee.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences of using audio files such as podcasts in your distributed teams you would like to share; have you found ways to manage communications that work and help your teams function better? if so, we would love to hear from you.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams with current real world academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can assist your business or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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