We have all been in a meeting that should have been an email. And we have all read email exchanges that should have been meetings. As communication tools are the backbone of virtual work, virtual teams benefit from understanding the characteristics of the various tools and agreeing on their use.
For the task-technology fit, we consider three concepts:
- Synchronicity: Synchronic means communicating at the same time, for instance, video calls or telephone. Communicating synchronic is ‘expensive’ because it takes time to organize, requires attendee’s time and uses bandwidth. Communicators should use synchronic tools with intention.
Asynchronic tools are used when people are not communicating at the same time. Asynchronic tools have a delay between the sender and the receiver. For example, email or chat. These tools are more flexible than synchronic tools.
- Conveyance means communication that is sent and read by someone so that information is understood. For instance, a new travel policy from headquarters or a summary of a client engagement.
- Convergence means that people clarify, inquire and converge together towards an understanding. For instance, a team discussing and making an important decision together is a convergence process.
In general, asynchronic tools are used for telling or informing. For instance, a presenter sends the ppt ahead of the meeting for people to review. Or to inform the public of a decision that has been made.
In general, synchronic tools are used for clarification, inquiry, conflict resolution, and critical conversations. As video call attendees have read the ppt document ahead of time, they can build upon the information, and not repeat, what was in the document.
Project update A waste of precious time is when a team goes through a project update on video or phone that could have been documented and read offline. Instead, the precious time could have been used to focus on issues, learnings or next steps. One suggestion is to turn a project update meeting into a two-step process which combines asynchronic (pre-read documentation) and synchronic (learnings and clarifications) tools.
Brainstorming Research shows that virtual brainstorming can be better than a traditional 2-hour, post-it note, onsite event. This is because, during an onsite event, vocal people may dominate, idea generators may hold back in the presence of their managers and the output may be difficult to synthesize. In contrast, virtual brainstorming minimizes the impact of hierarchy, encourages quiet people to express their ideas in asynchronic tools and leaves a documentation trail that is inherent in the tools.
Virtual brainstorming means either using specific brainstorming tools or combining synchronic with asynchronic tools, which turns a brainstorming event into a creative process.
Conflict Task conflict can be managed by using both asynchronic (to share documents and research), and synchronic (to build off each other’s ideas) tools. People experiencing personal conflict should communicate through a video call in order to send as many signals and cues as possible and to clarify and converge simultaneously.
Team Task-Technology Chart
With these concepts in mind, team members could agree on which tools to use for their collaboration. They could create a chart as below, consider what is best for their way of working and revisit the chart as they experiment and adjust.
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